News / Asia

Philippines Struggles to Account for Millions in Foreign Typhoon Aid

A typhoon survivor stands on rubbish in Tacloban, central Philippines, Dec. 8, 2013.
A typhoon survivor stands on rubbish in Tacloban, central Philippines, Dec. 8, 2013.
Simone Orendain
After super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November, foreign governments and aid groups pledged some $600 million in cash and assistance for the relief and recovery effort. Now, the Philippine government says it can only account for some $14.3 million of the donations. The government is working to create an improved tracking system to find out where the money went.
Right now the “Foreign Aid Transparency Hub” website shows pledges to three Philippine government agencies, but there are holes in the data.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda admits that the website does not reflect where exactly the money is going.  But he says the government will remedy that situation this month with an updated version that will provide more transparency.
“We are not going to only track donations to government, but also [what] those pledges and assistance have been converted to and to what channels- what we call channels- or organizations that they’re going to be furnished to," said Lacierda.
Foreign governments accounting 

For the new version, the Philippines will require foreign governments to submit detailed information of where their pledges have gone.  Authorities say this will help them account for much more of the donated funds.  As for tracking what the Philippine government has received directly, Lacierda says those agencies are still putting together reports of where the money was spent.
Cleo Calimbahin, the executive director of Transparency International-Philippines, commends the government for creating the website, but she says it is “not very informative.”  And even with additional information in the new version, the huge gap between pledges versus cash accepted might not necessarily close.
“A lot of private organizations and agencies channeled some of [that] aid directly to their counterparts… and that would be very difficult to track.  Also difficult to track would be aid that was given directly to local governments… because sometimes these local governments have strong relationships with other countries directly,” she said.
Ramon Casiple, who heads the Philippine Institute for Political and Electoral Reform,  says improved transparency about the government’s projects for aid and recovery would be better than an improved aid tracking website.

“The public can look into these plans, the way that they are implemented and actually give access to the victims themselves, if you want to verify the facts or the information.  The whole problem, so far in the rehabilitation, is that the victims are not part of the story,” he said.

Casiple says some of the bigger aid agencies worry about corruption and so they hesitate to donate directly to governments.   Also, down on the ground at the local government level, politics can influence whether survivors will get help or not. 

Relief operations in the Philippines, Nov. 21, 2013
  • Typhoon survivors board a Philippine Air Force transport plane in Tacloban, Nov. 21, 2013.
  • A Philippine man carries aid from a U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter in Palo, Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013.
  • U.S. sailors and Marines load supplies onto a helicopter to be delivered in Eastern Sumar Province, Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • U.S. military personnel carry supplies to be distributed in Eastern Sumar Province, Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • U.S. sailors work with Philippine armed forces members to transport relief supplies in Ormoc City, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • A member of the U.S. Navy hugs a child during a visit to Philippine Army base Camp Downes in support of Operation Damayan, Nov. 18, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • A Seahawk helicopter transports international relief supplies in support of Operation Damayan, Ormoc City, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • U.S. sailors and Marines work with Philippine civilians to unload relief supplies in Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • Villagers scramble for aid from a U.S. Navy helicopter in the coastal town of Tanawan, Philippines, Nov. 17. 2013.
  • A soldier carries a baby to board a U.S. military transport plane at the damaged Tacloban airport, Tacloban city, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013.
  • A U.S. hospital corpsman assists Philippine nurses in treating a patient's head wound at the Immaculate Conception School refugee camp, Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
  • Philippine citizens board an U.S. HC-130 Hercules to be airlifted to safety in support of Operation Damayan, Guiuan, Nov. 17, 2013. (U.S. Navy)
Agencies have own tracking systems

Casiple points to Oxfam International, which has so far collected $55 million toward typhoon aid, as a model for efficiency in helping the neediest survivors.  He says agencies like Oxfam work closely with their local counterparts on the ground.  

An Oxfam spokeswoman says all donations collected go toward Haiyan relief and rehabilitation.   The money is administered through a management system that follows projects at each step of the process.  
Another major humanitarian agency, the Tzu Chi Foundation, works directly with the survivors.  Philippine Country Chief Alfred Li says Tzu Chi has so far poured more than $27 million into areas that were hit hardest by Haiyan.  He says the money is tracked from start to finish and Tzu Chi personnel and volunteers are on the ground carrying out the work.
“Whatever we spend is handled by us.  We never give it to the government and then let the government do the distribution.  All our relief activities are always done by ourselves,” he said.
The funds have gone toward cash and livelihood relief and now building schools and other recovery work.  Li says Tzu Chi submits reports directly to the Departments of Social Welfare, Education and other related agencies.  

After five months of  recovery and reconstruction efforts in Tacloban and other hard-hit areas, there is still a great need for more assistance. Just this week, Australia pledged another $27 million for reconstruction in typhoon-hit areas, on top of the $36 million Canberra pledged in November.

Images from the Philippines, Nov. 21, 2013
  • Typhoon Haiyan survivors wait for their evacuation flights at the airport in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 21, 2013.
  • A typhoon survivor sits beside the body bag containing his child in Tacloban, central Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013.
  • A Philippine Air Force crew looks out from his helicopter as Typhoon Haiyan-ravaged city of Tacloban is seen in the background, during a flight to deliver relief goods, Nov. 19, 2013.
  • The brakelight of a delivery truck lights up a boy's face as survivors struggle to be the first in line during the distribution of relief goods in typhoon-hit Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013.
  • Firemen unload Typhoon Haiyan victims in body bags from a truck on the roadside until forensic experts can register and bury them in a mass grave outside of Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 19, 2013.
  • A Typhoon Haiyan survivor carries a bag of his recovered belongings in the ruins of his rural neighborhood on the outskirts of Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013.
  • A man uses a shovel to clean up mud inside St. Joseph Parish church, which was badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013.
  • Typhoon Haiyan survivors walk along a road in the destroyed port in the town of Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 15, 2013.
  • A young boy, a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan covers his ears as military C-130 aircraft land at the airport in Tacloban, central Philippines, Nov. 15, 2013.
  • Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan shade themselves from the rising sun after spending the night on the tarmac in the airport in Tacloban, where they wait to be evacuated, Nov. 15, 2013.
  • Toppled coconut trees dot a mountain in an area devastated by typhoon Haiyan in Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 15, 2013.

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Comment Sorting
by: mark
May 01, 2014 6:01 PM
To make things simple and easy. They don't necessarily account for donations directly fiven to recipients or partner organizations of donors, they have their own trust system and they know where those went. These oeganizations will nit ask government where it went because they know first hand.What theit concern should be what they receive and where they spend it.

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