The Philippines: Local governments take the lead in disaster recovery

31 May, 2012
Tropical Storm Washi swept across Mindanao in the Philippines in Dec 2011, bringing strong winds and heavy rains, massive flooding and landslides. The authorities in Mindanao are showing how local governments can lead disaster recovery efforts. Credit: OCHA
Tropical Storm Washi swept across Mindanao in the Philippines in Dec 2011, bringing strong winds and heavy rains, massive flooding and landslides. The authorities in Mindanao are showing how local governments can lead disaster recovery efforts. Credit: OCHA

The local authorities in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in the Philippines have taken the lead in the cluster system as the humanitarian community continues to help people who were forced from their homes by Tropical Storm Washi. The cluster system is aimed at improving the delivery of humanitarian aid after emergencies, by grouping together UN and non-UN organizations in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action.

The regional government implemented the cluster system with OCHA’s support at the onset of the emergency in December 2011. After a training course in March, the clusters were handed over to the local governments in the two cities to continue the recovery efforts.

“It’s a unique experience to see the government leading the cluster system,” said Rex Alamban of the International Organization for Migration in Cagayan de Oro. “It’s vital that this continues at the city level.”

He said the approach would help the whole international humanitarian community to study and better understand how to implement the cluster system under the leadership of national and local partners.

The learning process is mutual. “We should take advantage of our international partners and learn from systems that have worked globally,” said Ana Cañeda, Regional Director of the Philippines Office of Civil Defense in northern Mindanao. She said the authorities were interested in adapting global best practices to suit local conditions.  

Tropical Storm Washi, known locally as Sendong, swept through the 13 provinces of northern Mindanao last December, affecting some 600,000 people and damaging 40,000 houses. Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were particularly badly hit.

OCHA organized a post-disaster Action Review that identified cluster coordination as one area in which OCHA could help to support the regional and local authorities.

The government of the Philippines, which is ranked as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, formally instituted the cluster approach in 2007. Government departments head each cluster, supported by co-leaders who are often leading actors in the humanitarian system.