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REBUILDING TACLOBAN | Lessons and questions from New Zealand's reconstruction efforts

Satellite images show Tacloban's condition before (left) and after Yolanda.
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Estela Duque is a Filipino architectural historian currently taking post-graduate studies in the United Kingdom.

In an interview with CNN, Asian Development Bank Managing Director General Rajat M. Nag shared his thoughts on the short term, long term, and stimulus effects of the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Rajat Nag said the Philippines will receive two kinds of aid. First, in terms of immediate help for food, shelter, health; second, assistance will come for longer-term reconstruction to rebuild shelter, livelihood, roads, and other forms of infrastructure.

The EU Commission employs the same categories: Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), and Development and Cooperation (EuropeAid). The former is equivalent to emergency assistance and relief in the form of goods and services; the latter has eight intervention areas:

  • environment/sustainability
  • infrastructure/communications/transport
  • energy
  • rural development
  • governance/human rights
  • peace/security
  • human development, and
  • social cohesion/employment

Before Yolanda, we had discussed the challenges facing Bohol, which was severely and literally shaken by a major earthquake. And long before Bohol, we said, there were lessons on reconstruction to be taken from the Napier earthquake in New Zealand in the 1930s. The issues in Napier were similar even if the scale and complexity of the problem in Central Visayas are obviously on a totally different political, economic and social level.

For example, Napier teaches that it would not be sufficient for assistance to flow to the Philippines. As it was in New Zealand, there also has to be an equivalent campaign to enroll the "community of corporate interests" that rebuilt Napier in the 1930s. Their brand of cooperation was based on scientific technocracy - businesses, politicians, professionals and specialists coming together not for the generation of profit but a desire to rebuild people's lives and the local economy. We need to follow through with our version of corporatism that is, if not based on technocracy, then perhaps transparency.
This corporatism in Napier was generated by such agencies as Fletcher Construction (construction industry), the Rehabilitation Committee (state), and the Napier Reconstruction Committee (voluntary). Fletcher Construction became firmly identified with rebuilding Napier even though it did not make enormous profits from it. It began only with contracts to establish interim structures, moved on to the "tin town" of wood and corrugated iron which included a temporary shopping centre and 54 shops at Clive Square, followed by more substantial reconstruction contracts in both Napier and the neighbouring settlement of Hastings. Fletcher Construction was one of the beneficiaries of the "stimulus effect" that Rajat Nag referred to. According to architectural historian Paul Walker, Fletcher Construction's work at Napier enabled it to avoid the retrenchment that many companies went through during the Great Depression.

The work of the Rehabilitation Committee and the Napier Reconstruction Committee guided rehabilitation and recovery from the domestic level to the urban. The Rehabilitation Committee contended not only with the problems of fixing damaged dwellings, it also dealt with requests for businesses loans and non-repayable government grants amounting to more than £2 million, equivalent to $192 million.

The Napier Reconstruction Committee initiated not only "the replacement or re-establishment of public, private or government institutions or departments, businesses and industries"; it also brought about town planning efforts like widening of streets and rationalization of their layout. (Paul Walker had already noted that the flatter and more streamlined aesthetics of art deco and the Spanish mission style would be favoured in a major re-evaluation of the role of ornament, marking the arrival of modernism in New Zealand architecture.)

The work we need to do in Central Visayas corresponds to the distribution of the two levels of aid. It has been reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs has the task of processing and coordinating international humanitarian assistance, and the Commission on Audit will account for this aid. The government has even created a website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub to enable the public to track the funds (although merely listing the donors does not equate to full accountability. People have already taken to social networking sites to demand transparency, and we need to continue to press for a full disclosure of the distribution of humanitarian aid.)
As for development aid, NEDA is reportedly preparing a "recovery and reconstruction plan" to be submitted to the President in two to three weeks.

This is not the first time we have faced natural and manmade disasters. More recently in the aftermath of typhoons such as Reming (2006) and Ondoy (2010), geologists and volcanologists like Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay have clamored for the employment of more "natural disaster scientists", stricter enforcement of urban planning guidelines and Article 51 of the Water Code on river easements, improvement of weather and flood forecasting capability including the creation of better lahar and flood hazard maps, and "better community awareness and preparedness... at the barangay level". Architects and environmental planners have joined them in arguing for more "resilient and sustainable infrastructure and buildings."
I wait with bated breath, like the rest of the country, for NEDA's recovery and reconstruction plan. We have many questions that require answers. What structures, temporary and permanent, will be built? Whose purposes will they serve? How much will they cost, and how long will they take to build? Who are bidding to construct them? And more importantly, how will the rebuilding contracts be awarded?

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