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Resilience

Leveraging humanitarian assistance into long-term service delivery: Local Humanitarian Leadership and Independence Are Key!

Kevin Lee

Contributor

Leveraging humanitarian assistance into long-term service delivery: Local Humanitarian Leadership and Independence Are Key!

Water was an immediate need after many water sources were damaged by Typhoon Odette.

Noel Victorina (UNOCHA)

Ashoka Fellow Kevin Lee of A Single Drop for Safe Water shares how involving communities in their own recovery from disaster encourages impact that lasts long after initial relief efforts.

“Build Back Better” is the most overused phrase in disaster response and recovery. In many cases, we, as responders, build back worse because we do not listen to our partner communities or we do not expect them to be active participants in their own relief or recovery. Strength and resilience are about communities — local government units (LGUs) taking charge of their own situation and identifying what needs to change.

Palawan and especially Puerto Princesa City are known as safe havens from typhoons and this is now an official myth. On December 18, residents of the region woke up to the worst calamity that they had ever experienced.

Barangay Langogan of Puerto Princesa City is a beautiful river valley on the northern extreme of the city. Typhoon Odette (Rai) devastated its houses, lifelines, and forest. Even though the typhoon made landfall during as a category 3 storm, the wind direction and the funneling effect of the valley increased the wind speed. The strong winds were accompanied by massive amounts of water due to intense rainfall.

Local impact organizations A Single Drop for Safe Water and Roots of Health (ASDSW-ROH) launched their response on December 18. They received word that the water system was non-functional in Barangay Langogan. By January 26, ASDSW Engineer Sheryl Abes and the residents had replaced the intake, installed transmission piping, extended distribution piping, and installed tapstands for expanded distribution for over 300 families.

But that’s not the story. The water system funded by the worldwide development organization Oxfam was the beginning. Prior to the disaster, people were used to accessing water and took it for granted. However, the Barangay LGU saw that Typhoon Odette had revealed to them a valuable asset that needed to be nurtured and taken care of. With that realization, they asked Area Manager Annie Pascual for specific capacity development to manage the water system. Based on Ms. Pascual’s recommendation, the Response Manager approved the implementation of A Single Drop for Safe Water’s “People Offering Deliverable Services” training and built a Local Customer Service Code and management organization for the system.

A 2-week workshop, funded by Latter Day Saints Charities, with 15 consistent participants was conducted in April 2022 where the participants formulated policies, procedures, and tariff structure, learned water quality monitoring, and formed their own management structure. This was then documented in the Local Customer Service Code for the Langogan Water Service Association.

Why did they do this?

Mr. Wilfredo De La Cerna, one of the participants, explains it best: “This is ours, and it’s only fair for us to take care of it. We were already given this water system and the training free, so we should also pay our monthly dues in order for us to manage this well.”

Was everyone that participated aware of what they were getting into? Not so much, as per Mrs. Elena M. Labasbas. “We have no idea what seminar we will be attending, I was just asked to attend. Pero nang nandoon na kami, nalaman namin na 10 days pala. Pero nagpapasalamat kami dahil marami kaming natutunan. Salamat sa Single Drop.”

[“We have no idea what seminar we will be attending, I was just asked to attend. We only realized it would run for 10 days when we were already there. But we want to thank Single Drop because we learned so much.”]

Two barangay kagawads (councilors) were part of the process and the main instigators behind the capacity-building effort. Kgd. Ludevico Talaver said, “We are very grateful to Single Drop because they thought of repairing the water system immediately, which we need very badly. [It] did not end there, though. Now, we are also given free training in order to manage the water system well. We will no longer depend on the BLGU (barangay local government unit) for any repairs in the future.”

“Akala ko parang sa school lang na mag-elect ng president at ibang officers. Marami pa palang dapat matutunan katulad ng financial planning at operations.”

[“I thought that electing a president and other officers would be similar to how we did it in school. It turns out that there is still a lot for us to learn, such as financial planning and operations.”]

Kgd. Lurelyn Palay sums up the future: “There are a lot of expenses we have to provide in order to maintain the system well. There’s expenses for chlorine, for water testing, for personnel, for legal documents, so therefore we need to collect monthly dues to fund all these and maybe we will be able to expand later.”

Obviously, the community agreed. At a General Assembly held on April 3, 2022, the LWSA (Langogan Water Service Association) Local Water Service Code was ratified by an overwhelming majority.

We all want to build thriving communities. Disaster provides opportunities for humanitarian and development agencies to invest in people. This doesn’t just mean that we resort to standard humanitarian capacity strengthening, but we also need to grab opportunities when they happen so that we can respond to the dreams and aspirations of partner communities. ASDSW-ROH is honored to participate in the start of the journey of the Langogan Water Service Association.

ASDSW-ROH implemented a multi-sectoral response in Palawan on December 18, 2022. This was funded by multiple institutions that worked in Roxas and Northern Puerto Princesa. To date, at least 12,000 families received at least one distribution which includes water and hygiene kits, multi-purpose cash, food, emergency shelter, and newborn kits. Eight thousand families benefited from water systems being built, repaired, or restored. The coalition of organizations is now implementing equity support for 970 families to rebuild toilets, working with LGUs to implement Zero Open Defecation programming, and developing systems for response coordination between CSOs (civil sector organizations) and LGUs.

A mother and her children visit a reconstruction site in Palawan.

A Single Drop for Safe Water Inc. and Roots of Health, as members of the Humanitarian Response Consortium, launched a large-scale response in Palawan on December 18, 2021. UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) provided an emergency cash grant to showcase the localization of humanitarian leadership which supported government agencies, local CSOs (civil society organizations), and vulnerable households. Read the full report here.

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