Learning from Disaster: Corruption and Environmental Catastrophe

One year ago, Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) struck the Philippines, claiming over 6,000 lives. In the aftermath, numerous reports emerged regarding the failure of the Philippine government to properly manage relief efforts and get foreign aid to victims. This past September, the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA) released its comprehensive–and damning–Report on the Audit of Typhoon Yolanda Relief Operations. According to the report, of the $15 million available in the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) quick response fund, and the $1 million in donations received by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), not one cent was spent on the basic subsistence needs of typhoon victims, in clear violation of the statutory mandate of Republic Act 10352.

Elizabeth’s recent post highlighted some of the challenges involved in fighting corruption in a conflict zone. While a natural disaster like Typhoon Haiyan poses similar issues, the challenges–and the opportunities for effective response–differ in some important respects. On the one hand, in a natural disaster–as in a conflict situation–the chaos and breakdown of oversight, coupled with the dependence of victims on the resources, coordination, and capabilities of those in a position to provide relief creates a power imbalance that increases opportunities for corrupt actors. At the same time, although any individual natural disaster is unpredictable, the fact that such disasters will periodically occur is predictable (at least in certain disaster-prone areas), and this creates opportunities–which perhaps don’t exist to the same degree in the context of armed conflicts–to plan ahead: to take steps that can redress the potential power imbalance before the crisis occurs. Continue reading