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Making responses sustainable: Civil society empowerment and localisation of aid in Palawan

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In December 2021, Typhoon Rai, locally known as Odette, brought torrential rains to central-southern Philippines and caused widespread damage across 11 out of the country’s 17 regions. Though the most affected provinces were Cebu, Bohol, Southern Leyte and Surigao del Norte, the typhoon’s impact reached parts of Palawan province located along the western flank of the country, where the typhoon left loss of life, livelihoods and property in its wake. Roxas municipality in Palawan was along the direct path of the typhoon and the site of its ninth landfall.

“There was little international focus [in Palawan] due to the damage on the eastern seaboard. However, there were acute needs here,” said Kevin Lee, Executive Director of local non-government organization A Single Drop for Safe Water, Inc. (ASDSW).

In the aftermath of Typhoon Rai, and with funding support from the United Nations, the Palawan-based organization was involved in coordination, capacity-building and provision of support to communities reeling from the impact of the typhoon. ASDSW was the recipient of an Emergency Cash Grant awarded by the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines and made available by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Emergency Cash Grant was provided to the local organization in recognition of the need to increasingly involve NGOs in the response. Localisation as a key principle of implementation of the Humanitarian Needs and Priorities plan is recognized by the Humanitarian Country Team in the Philippines to ensure a sustainable response and recovery framework.

“OCHA’s Emergency Cash Grant was critical to show other new funders that we were legitimate responders,” said Lee. “The grant led to another and helped us coordinate NGOs and government agencies, assist [local government units] to create accurate lists and provide direct assistance in WASH, Shelter, Cash, and Food for over 15,000 families.”

There are various reasons why localisation is important. One is that the presence of local organizations on the ground before and after crises allows them to rapidly respond and to ensure sustainability of the intended impact of a response. Their established presence also brings close and longstanding contacts with local duty-bearers, such as the government and other civil society actors, and rights-holders including the assisted populations.

The Emergency Cash Grant and technical support provided by OCHA reinforced the capacities of local organizations like ASDSW, which was able to immediately mobilize to deliver assistance.

Seeing an influx of responders in Palawan in January, ASDSW extended capacity-building support to initiate a process for local organizations and government units to work together in response and recovery efforts, while placing partner communities at the center. A consortium was formed among local organizations in Palawan to strengthen coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Civil society involvement has been instrumental in the response. Even local authorities recognize their value added in disaster response and recovery efforts.

“The need to immediately respond prompted Roxas to step up and work with civil society organizations (CSOs) to bring back a sense of normalcy to our people. Different CSOs stepped up, d fueledby the spirit of volunteerism,” said Roxas, Palawan Municipal Mayor Dennis Sabando. “These shared goals and interests driven by the will to give public service, are I think one of the reasons we were able to rebuild the community and help our people through the calamity.”

Moving forward, the provincial government of Palawan is looking into increasing civil society participation in the recovery phase from Typhoon Rai and improving coordination between the local government and civil society in future disaster responses. Consortium members are keen to build upon lessons learned from the Typhoon Rai response to ensure that affected populations receive the support they need in future disasters.

ASDSW’s use of the Emergency Cash Grant demonstrates that localisation can lead to more sustainable humanitarian outcomes in emergency responses. OCHA will continue to support the Humanitarian Country Team in finding ways to reinforce national and local systems and capacities.

Read OCHA’s full report, Palaweños helping Palaweños: Localisation of aid driving more sustainable humanitarian outcomes in Palawan.

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