Interview with Caroline Schlaufer, economics expert COPRO International
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan wreaked massive destruction in the Philippines. Besides homes, the livelihoods of many were destroyed, particularly in agriculture, fishing and on coconut plantations. This prompted Swiss Solidarity to fund projects to help the affected population generate new sources of income.
Caroline Schlaufer, economics expert on Swiss Solidarity’s international project commission, visited these projects in July and assessed how well they are working.
Ms Schlaufer, you travelled to the Philippines in July. What does the country look like today, and how much damage from Typhoon Haiyan is still visible?
Not much damage remains visible almost three years after the typhoon. Most homes and buildings have been rebuilt. Only the coconut trees felled by the storm have not yet been replanted in many places. But the typhoon is still very present in people’s minds.
Why is it so important to fund income-generation projects alongside reconstruction work?
People have to earn their money somehow. Most people in the Philippines are self-employed, mainly in agriculture or trade. The typhoon has not only devastated homes, but also the basis of livelihoods – for example cattle, a small store, market stall or the already mentioned coconut trees. It is important that those affected can earn their own income again as soon as possible. Unfortunately, these people have no insurance policies to fall back on. This is where these projects come into play.
Have the projects improved the lives of those affected?
In East Samar, the third largest island in the Philippines, for instance, many people earned their living from coconut cultivation before the typhoon. But when coconut trees are planted, it takes a few years until they yield fruit. Therefore one of the Swiss Solidarity-funded projects supports coconut farmers in diversifying their sources of income to include vegetable or cocoa cultivation. Great importance is attached to integrating farmers into the local and regional market, which helps them increase their income. Diversification should also offer people more protection from the negative impacts of future natural disasters.
Which projects have worked particularly well and why?
I think that the projects that make the most sense are those that are launched quickly after a disaster and focus on income generation. Unfortunately, many NGOs think about reconstruction first and income generation later. This means that those affected have to go into debt in order to resume paid work. Of the projects still involved in income generation more than one year after a disaster, the ones working particularly well are those which support and build on existing initiatives without trying to replace local services.
What hasn’t worked so well, and what lessons have been learned from this?
In my experience, the projects that do not work so well distribute goods or money a long time after the typhoon without demanding an own contribution from the beneficiaries. If no personal contribution is required, people often take up economic activities that are not sustainable. In the worst case, such projects can actually prevent self-initiative.
Has the aid effort in the Philippines been completed or what happens next?
A second phase is being funded for one very successful project I visited. The other projects have finished or will finish at the end of the year.