How to rebuild the Philippines

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How to rebuild the Philippines

12/24/13 09:22 Vicki Escarra – MSNBC

Only small pieces of concrete remain in what was once the home of a fish monger named Arlene in San Dionisio, Iloilo, a village in the Philippines.

A typhoon survivor walks past damaged trees at typhoon-ravaged Tolosa town, Leyte province, central Philippines, Dec. 9, 2013.Last month, Typhoon Haiyan swept away the house, all of the family’s possessions and the three boats that Arlene and her fisherman husband used to make a living for their four children.

The typhoon devastated the Philippines, destroying homes and businesses, and affecting more than 13 million people, including five million children, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. An estimated 4,000 lives were lost and nearly 4.5 million were displaced by what was one of the worst storms on record.

With their livelihoods destroyed, survivors like Arlene were left desperate for food, safe drinking water, basic shelter and sanitation.

International relief organizations have mobilized over the past two months to provide for the most urgent needs of those affected. These critical efforts saved lives in a disaster’s aftermath. But with limited resources, many organizations are forced to leave when immediate needs are met, media attention wanes and donations from the global community slow.

A local man under the stars in his damaged home along the shore in Tacloban, Leyte Province, Philippines on Nov. 25, 2013.

Already, focus has shifted away from the disaster. Yet the long and difficult period of rebuilding has just begun. Greater attention and funding is still needed.

Recovery after a disaster of this magnitude is slow and expensive. The cost of rebuilding houses, businesses, schools and community infrastructure in the most devastated areas of the central Philippines could reach $5.7 billion.

Compounding the challenge of recovery efforts, many of the areas hardest hit by the storm are among the country’s poorest: 44% of the population subsisted on less than $2 a day before the storm hit.

So what resources exist to help these devastated and vulnerable communities rebuild? Microfinance.

Microfinance includes financial services such as loans, savings, insurance and training to people living in poverty. By nature, it targets resources to the most marginalized people–helping to increase access to credit and economic opportunities.

Microfinance organizations like Opportunity International are vital in the wake of disasters, providing access to financial products that would otherwise be unavailable to those who need it most. These services provide the initial capital needed to help families get back on their feet and begin their businesses anew.

The value of these services can be seen after natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan and the Haiti earthquake, as well as after man-made disasters like the civil war in Sierra Leone that affected millions during two decades of violence.

In these cases, microfinance institutions provide cash infusions for economic stabilization and offer lasting on-the-ground support with existing access to some of the most desperate communities.

In the Philippines, microfinance has the ability to jumpstart the local markets and provide a sense of hope to those who have lost everything. Emergency assistance loans can help people to build homes, resurrect businesses, and eventually revitalize economies. With the informal labor force representing 72.5% of the Philippines’ economy, these financial resources are critical.

Microfinance can play a significant role in rebuilding the island nation, by delivering financial support to the most vulnerable. While aid organizations must continue to provide lifesaving services now, we must also think about where survivors will be one year, two years, and five years from now.

Only then will the Philippines, and the millions of people devastated by this typhoon, be able to build back better.

Escarra is CEO of Opportunity International.