Climate change makes things worse, skewing disaster impacts even more towards poorer communities. Rapid urbanisation has led to poorer people being marginalised from safe and legal areas in many developing countries, forcing many to live in high risk locations, such as flood plains, river banks, steep slopes and reclaimed land. In these unplanned squatter settlements, homes are not built to withstand such natural forces. Many of these settlements lack even the most basic infrastructure, such as health and fire services and fresh water and sanitation. This leaves communities extremely at risk following a natural disaster. Weak infrastructure, crumbling buildings, rapid population growth, poor governance, precarious rural livelihoods and ecosystem decline all underpin the rapid expansion of disaster risk in the developing world.
People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change.
In early November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines. Thousands of people died, almost half a million people were displaced and up to 4.5 million people affected by the Typhoon. Haiyan followed a raft of natural disasters to hit the Philippines in 2013, including several typhoons and significant levels of flooding in addition to the Bohol earthquake.
Widespread destruction caused by the typhoon meant that many homes in rural areas were destroyed, crops lost, agricultural land damaged and farming equipment destroyed or missing. Rural farmers who had already been living in poverty, had lost their shelter, all personal belongings and livelihood. Specifically, they lost their coconut trees, farm tools and rice seeds, depriving them of their main source of income. Following the tsunami, these farmers were dependant on emergency food supplies provided by the government. The supplies were basic and not well coordinated meaning that it was unsustainable for affected families to rely on the government indefinitely.
In a coordinated response with local organisations, The Dublin Province of the Redemptorists with the support of Misean Cara, responded to the emergency in many ways. One of the projects was initiated to allow families affected by the Typhoon return to their main livelihood – farming. These farmers are almost entirely reliant on subsistence farming, meaning that they can only focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families. They had very little savings, leaving them no safety net to fall back on after the Typhoon. The limited household assets they possessed had mostly been destroyed by the Typhoon.
The municipality of Quinapondan is known to be the ‘Rice Granary of Eastern Samar’ and farming serves as their main economic activity. Through participatory decision making and planning, farmers indicated that they wanted to plant rice, a staple food crop in the region and country, and it was decided that palay rice was the most suitable type.
Local supplies of palay seeds were destroyed in the typhoon thus seeds were sourced from Manila and other surrounding provinces. Shortages in the area meant that prices increased dramatically. This meant that vulnerable households were unable to afford the costs involved in the cultivation of rice. The production of rice was highlighted as a priority by the farming communities. As a result, this project enabled farmers to cultivate over 443 hectares with palay rice, benefitting the most vulnerable farmers in different communities in Quinapondan.
In addition to the production of rice, the communities identified vegetable gardening as a priority. Vegetable production is essential to maintain a nutritious diet and to combat malnutrition. Immediately after the typhoon, fruit and vegetable prices soared, fruit-bearing trees, such as coconut and vegetable crops suffered the brunt of Yolanda. Vegetable seeds were distributed directly to households and also communally for the benefit of vulnerable communities. Communal vegetable gardens were identified and selected by community representatives. The gardens were cultivated and a variety of vegetables including squash, eggplant, string beans, bitter gourd and red and green pepper were planted. Community members who do not own or have access to land were able to plant vegetables via communal vegetable farming. This meant that households benefitted from a more diverse and nutritious diet which is especially important to prevent malnutrition among young children.
The provision of farm tools and cultivating equipment helped farmers reduce production costs and increase the efficiency of agricultural activities. Farm implements were distributed to help the communities recover from the devastating effects of the typhoon. Each community received a set of tools including; a shovel, a sprayer, a pike, an asarol, and vegetable seeds. With the help of the tools and equipment, agricultural production increased which allowed the communities to meet their basic food needs and to sell surplus produce.
Food clusters were also organised in response to the food and economic challenges in the area. A food cluster team comprises of community members and leaders with support from local government and project staff. A team was established in each community to oversee the implementation of the project, share knowledge and ideas, support marketing of agricultural produce, and to deal with any farming and project concerns. The food cluster teams also provided valued support to farmers, particularly the communal gardens and the teams also monitored production and yields in the rice fields. Food clusters encouraged community members to save and set aside part of their income from the first agricultural cycle which was then used as capital for the next production cycle and production expenses. The clusters plan to produce their own planting seeds from the second harvest which if successful will ensure a greater deal of autonomy and production sustainability.
The communities participating in this project were involved throughout the project cycle – from planning through to the implementation. They are now more resilient and self-sufficient and can plan for climate change adaption and disaster risk reduction within their communities.
There is also a more balanced diet available to all households through the provision of communal vegetable gardens, food clusters. Skills, knowledge and expertise that have been transferred to the community in terms of income generation and management.
The communities are fighting back and rebuilding after one of the worst tropical cyclones ever recorded. They are now able to plan how to protect their people and livelihoods and develop their communities in a more safe way, rather than relying on disaster relief.