Aquino’s Tacloban bunkhouses and why humanitarian standards should be followed

One of the first few pictures that came out of a #RubyPH-devastated Eastern Visayas region is this:

zhander cayabyab

This government-constructed bunkhouse for Yolanda survivors in Tacloban City did not stand nature’s ‘stress test’, as opposed to shelters also built in Leyte by local and international non-government organizations such as the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

UNDP shelter

Possibly the most ridiculous example is this unfinished shelter, by local NGO ACCORD, whose frame fared better than the government’s finished product

accord frame

Aside from corruption (something which has been alleged in government post-disaster programs after Yolanda[1] and Pablo[2]), another major reason for these ‘deadly bunkhouses’ is this:

shelters need not follow international model 02

(Read the whole story here)

What are these ‘standards’ anyway? Why do they have to be followed?

Humanitarian projects, programs, and organizations are based on the principle[3] that everyone has a ‘right to life with dignity’. In essence, this means that everyone has the right, not just to live, but to live in decent conditions. If a typhoon survivor was sleeping on the streets, hungry, thirsty, and sick, ‘right to life’ alone meant that the survivor’s conditions are enough. But ‘right to life with dignity’ means that those conditions are unacceptable.

Documents such as ‘The Sphere Handbook’ are widely used by humanitarian NGOs across the world to ensure that their projects and programs, especially emergency relief-types which take places hours and days after a disaster, uphold the victims’ right to life with dignity.

Here are some examples of how following these standards actually help people in the weeks after Yolanda:

  • Giving people relief packs with enough food for a week allowed them to attend to other needs, such as searching for missing relatives, burying their dead, and clearing the wreckage of their homes
  • Ensuring that relief packs contain enough soap for a month means that people won’t expose themselves to many kinds of diseases simply because they can’t afford to buy
  • Constructing toilets which comply with the standards lessen the chance of flies and mosquitoes spreading diseases

To reiterate, humanitarian standards are something the humanitarian community follows for the benefit of disaster victims. To say that the government “…don’t necessarily have to follow the international standards[4]” (yes, that’s an actual quote, people!) is shocking. If a local NGO said that to their donors, they would lose funding faster than it takes Mar Roxas to fall of a motorcycle.

Which raises the question: why isn’t the government following these standards, anyway?!



[3] The Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response


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