Build Back Better, But Finish the Job

Lord McConnell




On my return to Leyte, I was unsure what to expect. The island was the most affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 and on my last visit in February 2014, the population were still in shock. Beyond the main streets debris still covered land and buildings; huge shops thrown onto the beach at Tacloban remained as a reminder of the scale of the horror; and farmers were beginning to panic over the replacement of the 32 million coconut trees that were lost, and the need to feed their families and start to earn an income again.


I was back for a second year as a Volunteer with VSO Bahaginan – the Philippines wing of VSO International – to campaign with Beyond 2015 and support those locally fighting for justice and an end to extreme poverty.


In Tacloban, the main town, commerce has returned. There is a spring in the step of the people. Shops and schools are open again. The airport has been reroofed and is no longer a shell. Everywhere I hear praise for the UK. Between government humanitarian aid and private donations, the UK was the single largest donor following Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it is known locally. Our contribution was fast and targeted important priorities.


In Tolosa, Sante Fe and Dulag, local farmers were able to tell me that the new homes built since 2013 withstood the three smaller typhoons in 2014; some crops planted last year survived those fresh onslaughts; and rebuilding of local schools was now underway.


However, in each of the three areas – the scale and speed of replanting, the number of new homes and access to vital services – there are concerns. The capacity of national and local government is strained, and there is much still to be done.


For the longer term, the global community must take consistent action to slow down climate change and reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events. And we must also invest in disaster risk reduction and mitigation.


In September 2015, the United Nations will agree new Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals. They will aim to end extreme poverty by 2030 and therefore we must go further than the MDG’s set in 2000. The MDG’s address urgent deficiencies in basic provision and set targets for primary schooling, clean water, vaccinations, and maternal health. Bu in our world today – and the best example of this is the Philippines – if we are to invest in programmes that transform the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, the SDG’s must prioritise climate change, conflict and inequality. And they must support Disaster Risk Resilience and Mitigation.


Extreme weather events, natural disasters like floods, typhoons and earthquakes, not only destroy development already underway but they target the most vulnerable. The SGD’s must move beyond humanitarian aid in the event of natural disasters – admirable and important though those efforts are – to invest in Build Back Better, in early warning systems and in diversified and sustainable agriculture and infrastructure to provide the platform for sustained development in these disaster prone communities.


We must not forget Typhoon Haiyan, or the thousand who died. We must not just move on. There is a real opportunity this year to effect change over the next fifteen years. We need tough targets to tackle climate change agreed in December. We need a strong commitment to Disaster Risk Resilience in the SDG’s in September. And back in Tacloban and the other communities of Leyte and Samar, we must not leave before the job is done.


The global community is helping to build back better, so now is not the time to move on, it is time to finish the job. The families who have suffered so much deserve nothing less.




1 comment for “Build Back Better, But Finish the Job

  1. MilesJSD
    05/03/2015 at 4:12 pm

    I am so glad to see the alternative to “moving on” !

    THAT is what we need to shout as a new point-of-order
    “Finish the remaining unfinished tasks first – or at least leave ‘rearguard parties’ to work at them”.

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