Wasting relief, or #SorryWorldredux

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There is nothing that will make you angrier than to hear that Typhoon Haiyan relief goods have gone to waste, when one knows how hungry people still are in Samar and Leyte. Nothing that will disgust you more than to hear that millions in cash donations for Haiyan victims were not touched or used for the relief operations immediately after the typhoon, when problems with transportation and logistics could have been solved by using funds that the world had donated for use precisely in that time of dire need.

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The Commission on Audit (COA) Report on Haiyan Relief Operations reveals much of what we feared was going on in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan. It reveals how this government’s been pulling our leg.

The Soliman response
The numbers are painful to see and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Number of family food packs: 7,527. Assorted canned goods: 95,472. Packs of noodles: 81. Sacks of rice: 21. All these went to waste due to logistical problems.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman has admitted to the soiled food packs: these got wet in transit from Cebu City to Tacloban. How much did these soiled family food packs cost us? P2,784,900. That’s close to P2.8 million.

The only other response to this COA Report from the DSWD is via an official press release which focuses on the report’s assertion that the P1.12 Billion pesos in local and foreign cash donations has yet to be spent on Haiyan survivors. They say that’s because the COA Report only covers November to December 2013; were it also looking at 2014 relief and rehabilitation disbursements, it would find that the DSWD had spent 90% of the total cash donation.

We are being given this information like we’re supposed to celebrate. The DSWD assures us: we can account for every cent.

More than numbers
But what this COA Report hits on, what it reveals, are not just numbers. Instead it looks at what went wrong with Haiyan relief operations, something that this government has denied often enough.

The delayed and lack of coordination in the distribution of relief goods is something we know to be true, but the COA Report gives a glaring example of how bad things were. And lest the DSWD dismiss these findings because it covers only the period until December 2013, that’s not quite true about everything in this report. In fact, the findings go beyond the taranta stage of relief operations.

For example, container vans with relief goods did not only take 28 days to arrive from Manila to Iloilo on January 30 2014; it would take also more than a month (March 7) for those goods to be distributed to Local Government Units (LGUs). This delay was a consequence of the repacking process that the DSWD insisted on despite the fact that it meant delays in distribution, and in addressing the urgency of . . . oh I don’t know, hunger.

And thirst, we imagine. But even water was not something that this government procured without thinking, because it is an urgent and immediate need—it still is! —in the post-Haiyan context. At some point (there is no clear sense of when), government decided between food packs and water, and decided against the latter (!!!). And then when it was time to procure the water, government found that water purification systems were already in place (most probably from international humanitarian organizations, yes?) and so they could cancel the order for water altogether.

Yet across the Eastern Visayas, and just in the tent cities and impoverished communities in Tacloban, one would be hard-put to prove that bottled water does not remain an immediate need, almost a year since the typhoon.

Systemic dysfunction
The COA Report states that: “Procured supplies intended for relief operations have not been fully delivered by the suppliers due to logistical gaps, such as lack of storage facility while awaiting repacking and eventual transport to affected areas and lack of delivery trucks.” Which behooves us to ask: why did this government NOT use the money that it had, the P1.12 billion in donations, to rent storage facilities for relief goods and trucks for delivery?

There was P58,029,631.29 million pesos worth of supplies delivered to the DSWD’s National Resource Operations Center (NROC) between December 26 to 31 2013. These supplies were “ . . . piled at the grounds of the NROC for more than a month, exposed to rain and direct sunlight.”

It’s one thing to hear from the survivors that they have yet to receive food packs and water; it’s another to discover that government itself had clear indications that there was something wrong with the system of relief distribution that it insisted was correct and lawful and valid.

And falsely transparent. This government insisted that the only way to distribute relief goods was on the level of the LGU, no matter that people might be lining up and asking for water on the streets of Tacloban. Survivors were told to go back to their barangays so their names might be ticked-off on some “official list.” This should mean a better sense of who got relief goods and who didn’t, and how many actually did receive those food packs. Alas, the COA Report found that the documentation itself of this relief distribution was a failure, where in places like Region 6, with 112 LGUs, only 29 had relief distribution sheets that prove the relief goods were received by affected families.

This is the thing with that COA Report. The DSWD and this government might be able to prove that they’ve spent every cent. But that they spent it correctly? But that they delivered services and goods when Haiyan survivors most urgently needed it? That’s something this government will be hard put to prove.

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