Philippines Disaster Reinforces Need for Transparent Assistance and a Focus on Resilience

Following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the Philippines has launched the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH), which will provide information on all foreign aid channeled through the Philippine government. Vijaya Ramachandran, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Global Development, states that the information hub primarily focuses on typhoon relief to ensure funds go exactly where they are targeted in terms of survivors and communities, but will be expanded to monitor aid for other disasters. The government’s initiative comes at the right time; already, allegations of unequal aid distribution have plagued relief efforts. As the international community works to rebuild the Philippines, transparency should play a vital role in organizing reconstruction and supporting on-going development programs.

The Philippines is making a plea to donors to supplement FAiTH’s measures, as the organization is limited to tracking foreign aid flowing through domestic government agencies. Budget secretary Florencio Abad has encouraged government efforts to increase accountability in addition to civil society and donor initiatives, under the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). The U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) contributed to this effort by posting fact sheets on U.S. aid to the Philippines. The U.S. has already pledged $37 million.

Using new online transparency tools such as UNOCHA’s Financial Tracking Service or FAiTH to provide real-time information about where assistance is going will help address issues of uneven distribution. However, as aid shifts from relief to reconstruction, it is crucial to continue reporting to IATI, because it has a stronger monitoring system than FTS or FAiTH. Monitoring and transparency should also increase within US agencies. Vijaya Ramachandran and Owen Barder, Senior Fellows with the Center for Global Development, recently called for USAID to disclose information on its subcontractors’ activities. Ramachandran and Barder raise a good point - transparency should extend to all levels of development assistance. This would not only prevent overlaps and gaps in programs, but would also help USAID analyze what works and what doesn’t work.

Typhoon Haiyan also highlights the importance of disaster resilience in development efforts. In a speech to the Brookings Institution on ending extreme poverty, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah noted that U.S. assistance should have a greater emphasis on resilience. Mainstreaming resilience into aid programs could prepare a country to handle future natural disasters and prevent current programs from losing momentum. For the Philippines, increasing the government’s capacity to deal with typhoons could reduce the need for massive international interventions.

In addition, Shah called for an increase in public-private collaboration in development aid. FAiTH and global movements like IATI can contribute to this reform, ensuring mutual accountability with USAID and its private-sector partners. As the U.S. looks to facilitate multilateral collaboration and integrate disaster resilience with reconstruction in the Philippines and beyond, transparency must play a crucial role in determining the success of these efforts. 

Kelsey Sakumoto is a Communications and Policy Outreach Intern at AidData based at the College of William & Mary.