Poorest people left behind by Philippines Typhoon response

Published: 6th February 2014

Race against time for typhoon-hit coconut farmers, traders and fisherpeople

The huge humanitarian response in the aftermath of November’s super typhoon saved thousands of lives but three months on, the poorest coconut farmers, traders and fisherpeople are being left out of the recovery effort.

More than one million families living in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines were part of the thriving coconut industry but their source of income has been decimated and they are now largely dependent on aid. More than 33 million coconut trees were destroyed by 195mph winds and millions of trees will take between six to eight years to grow back.

Latest figures show zero funding has been allocated to the UN for coconut workers and fisherpeople, while the Philippines government has been slow to deliver the agricultural and reconstruction support it has promised. Sixty per cent of small-scale coconut farmers lived in poverty before the typhoon hit and are now surviving on food aid or cash support.

Agriculture and fishing hardest hit

Farmers not only face years of lost income but are in a race against time to clear the land of fallen trees before they rot in three months time. Sawdust and rotting wood is a breeding ground for pests, particularly the rhinocerous beetle, which will infest the few trees that remain standing unless the land is cleared for replanting. The urgent work is being further jeapordized by unequal land ownership laws, which require the poorest farm workers to seek permission from landowners before clearing can begin.

More than 30,000 boats were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan’s storm surge leaving fishermen and women with no way of earning an income. The majority of those reliant on the sea and mangroves to earn a living also face possible relocation far from the ocean. A government law banning the building of residential homes within 40 metres of the coast risks cutting people off from their boats unless alternative safe sites are found nearby.

Justin Morgan, Oxfam’s Country Director in the Philippines said:

“Millions of people are hanging in the balance, unsure how they will survive for the coming months and years. Coconut farmers and traders are integral to one of the Philippines' most profitable industries and yet they are being left out of the recovery effort. Without cash support and income options, hundreds of thousands of productive and skilled workers will be out of work for years to come.

“Fast delivery of emergency relief by the international community in the first three months has prevented widespread hunger and outbreaks of disease. But unless the Government steps in to provide the poorest farmers and fishers with real practical help, all the gains made so far could be lost.”

At the end of December, more than 29 per cent of the typhoon affected population was dependent on food assistance, with more than a quarter of people sometimes going the whole day without eating.

The government response has so far not come close to meeting the needs of people affected. For example the fishing ministry has only committed to help repair 1,000 destroyed boats.

Oxfam's response

Oxfam has provided farmer cooperatives with chainsaws and sawmills to clear the land of fallen coconut trees for replanting and help them process the fallen trees into lumber. It is supporting fisherpeople to rebuild their broken boats and will provide people with start-up capital for small businesses, as well as equipment such as fishing nets and kits, seeds and fertilizer.

Overall the agency has reached almost 550,000 people with relief in the first three months of the response, including clean water to more than 200,000 people in Tacloban by supporting the government to repair and fix broken pipes. It has provided people with hygiene kits, sanitation services, cash support, water kits, rice seed, shelter materials, kits for pregnant women, hygiene education and cleated waste and debris.

Watch: Short video recap of Oxfam's humanitarian response in the three months since Typhoon Haiyan hit:



Without cash support and income options, hundreds of thousands of productive and skilled workers will be out of work for years to come.
Justin Morgan
Oxfam’s Country Director in the Philippines

Notes to editors

  1. New footage can be downloaded here: http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15410&k=f3b888b7ce.
  2. Nearly 5.6 million people require food assistance and support to prevent food insecurity and restore agricultural and fishing livelihoods (UN OCHA).
  3. Before the typhoon, coconut farmers and farm workers earned an average of one dollar a day throughout the year. In Eastern Visayas region where the super typhoonhas left the most devastation, the Philippines Coconut Authority estimated 33 million coconut trees in 295,191 hectares of land have been damaged putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of about 1,160,332 farming households.
  4. Poor fishers account for more than a third of the Philippines fisheries production.
  5. Exports of coconut oil from the Philippines, the world's top supplier of the commodity, fell 18.3 per cent in December. Coconut oil is the county’s top agricultural commodity export, generating an average of US$935 million in annual export earnings.

Contact information

Spokespeople are also available for interviews in Tacloban, Cebu and Manila.

Contact Anna Ridout in the Philippines on +63 916 674 9742 or +63 919 509 8134 or aridout@oxfam.org.uk, or @annaridout