Saturday, November 30, 2013

When first responders fall and prisoners return


(UPDATED March 13) - Next to happy situations, unhappy ones also make for good learning.

At the center of criticism that the government response to typhoon Yolanda was -- at the very least --  “disorganized, “ Interior Secretary Mar Roxas has had time to reflect and sort things out.

Here is a report from Ayee Macaraig of Rappler, the online news portal:

MANILA, Philippines – More than two weeks since Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said he learned a valuable lesson from the most devastating disaster to hit the country in recent history.

“The lesson from Yolanda is that the family of the first responders should be evacuated, secured, so the first responders will not become victims,” Roxas told reporters at the sidelines of budget deliberations on Monday, November 25.

(“It is hard to expect them to fulfill their duty when their mind or attention is focused on evacuating their loved ones.”), said the secretary, who is among those heading relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Roxas admitted the government did not think of evacuating the responders’ kin.

The interior chief made the statement as he defended why his department has its own budget for climate change even if other agencies have the primary mandate over disaster risk reduction and climate change mitigation.


Saving the saviors

“That is one of the lessons that, through technical assistance and seminars, we will now impart to LGUs as part of their planning, their crafting of their disaster risk reduction and management plans. This is one of the things we will teach: that the family of the first responder – police, firemen, disaster risk reduction personnel – must be kept away from harm so that starting day one, they are focused on their work,” Roxas said.

Yet Roxas was asked why it took the world’s most powerful storm for the government to learn the lesson. Each year, an average of 20 typhoons hit the country …

(“Yolanda is the first typhoon where we had signal number 4. We learn from experience. In theory, we did not think about it. Now we see how important it is. On day 1 and day 2, the first responders were victims themselves. That is one of the most important lessons we learned.”), Roxas said.


Hard lessons to learn

Contrary to Roxas’ statement, there were 14 previous storms since 1991 where state weather bureau PAGASA raised signal number 4 in the Philippines.

The world’s most powerful storm to make landfall, Yolanda killed 5,235 people as of November 25. The typhoon flattened whole towns and cities and affected 10 million people. The government is now starting the rehabilitation process, expected to take years.

In the immediate aftermath, local soldiers, policemen and government officials were hard-pressed to respond to the disaster as some of them were also killed, while the rest were looking after family members or searching for missing relatives.

Roxas and the national government have drawn flak over the slow delivery of relief goods and the supposed lack of leadership in the first few days after the typhoon.


More lessons

Another report from Martin Abbugao of the French news agency, Agence France Presse (AFP), provides grist for more lessons:

PALO, Leyte – Nearly half of the detainees who escaped from a flooded jail at the height of Super Typhoon Haiyan have returned, many after helping their families deal with the storm's aftermath.

There were nearly 600 detainees at the Leyte Provincial Jail when the typhoon, one of the strongest ever to make landfall, flattened dozens of towns across the islands of Leyte and Samar on November 8.

The winds ripped off the roof of the prison, which houses detainees who are on trial, while gushing water from the mountains sent flash floods into the isolated complex near the ruined coastal town of Palo.


Law-abiding prisoners

Prison guard Fidencio Abrea told Agence France-Presse all of the detainees escaped as head-high water forced them to clamber up the prison grills and then over into stormy freedom, with no roof to contain them.

Abrea said the guards were themselves sheltering from the howling wind and powerful rains, so did not notice the mass escape.

But he said 251 prisoners had come back, and were now being housed in a section of the complex that suffered minor damage.


To help families

Returnees interviewed by Agence France-Presse said their immediate concern after escaping was to check on or help loved ones, and that they came back because they did not want to ruin their chances of being exonerated at trial.

"I returned because I want my freedom to be legal," said Renato Comora, 47, who is on trial for murder.

Comora said he initially went to his wife and 6 children in the town of Dulag about 30 kilometers (18 miles) away.

"My family is okay, there are no casualties but my house is totally destroyed," he said inside the prison compound as other inmates milled around or were cooking on soot-blackened pots using firewood.

"I just wanted to make sure that my family was safe. After that, I returned on my own because I don't want to live the life of a fugitive."

Oldarico Raquel, 36, who is on trial for attempted murder, said he also escaped because he wanted to see his family.

His house was destroyed and he helped put up makeshift shelters for his family and relatives before returning to the jail, where he and 17 other inmates were packed in one cell.


Harvest some rice

Danilo Tejones, 51, who is on trial for rape, said he returned because he was innocent of the charge.

"After escaping, I helped my family harvest rice for 3 days before I returned," he said.

"I could have stayed away but I decided to come back because I am innocent of the charge. I want my case to be finished so that I can get free legally."

Thirty-two-year-old Jessie Abalos said he escaped so that he could go and help his 60-year-old mother rebuild their home in the town of Tolosa.

"Our house has been blown away. So I helped my mother put up a temporary shelter, then I returned," said Abalos, who is on trial for drugs charges.

Asked why he had returned, he said he was afraid of living a life as a fugitive.


Voluntary return

Jail officials said prisoners are returning directly to the compound or just presenting themselves to a prison van that drives around the disaster zones looking for the detainees.

Palo and the nearby provincial capital of Tacloban remain scenes of near complete chaos, two weeks after the storm that has left nearly 7,000 people dead or missing.

Prison guard Abrea said returnees would have the court hearings of their cases speeded up, giving the innocent a chance to be set free more quickly, the AFP report said.

Uhmm…  This suggests something to Mar Roxas.  The law-abiding prisoners can be trained as first responders to beef up the local government units.
Their good work can then be credited to reduce their prison terms.  

And then, as an option, errant government officials can take the prisoners' place for their turn at the next rescue effort.

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)  

Photo by greenpeaceblogs.org

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bicolanos share wide experience battling typhoons

By WINSTON A. MARBELLA

(UPDATED March 12) - In our youth we sang this iconic song written by Jim Webb:

This time we almost made the pieces fit
Didn’t we, girl?
This time we almost made some sense of it
Didn’t we, girl?

The lyrics came to mind recently as I tried to make some sense of what was happening in the biggest humanitarian relief effort in this country following the catastrophe wrought by the strongest typhoon to hit land ever.

The piece in the jigsaw puzzle that “made the poem rhyme” came from this story written by Bea Cupin in Rappler, the online news portal:

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Systems and protocols should be in place before a disaster strikes. Because once it strikes, there would be no time for meetings or coordination or even thinking, according to a veteran in disaster management.

Government officials held too many meetings here after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), and this delayed relief efforts, Dr. Nats Rempillo of Team Albay told Rappler in an interview on Friday, November 22.

While many, including foreign veteran aid workers and journalists, were aghast at the damage caused by Yolanda, Rempillo said he had expected to see the worst. 

He said the Albay provincial government prepared for the worst, too, thinking that the world's most powerful typhoon would hit the province. 

Yolanda however skirted Albay, instead cutting through the Visayas, wiping out entire towns and cities along its path. Leyte's capital of Tacloban was one of the worst hit.

Albay Gov Joey Salceda himself earlier told Rappler he put 37 trucks on standby in his province before Yolanda's estimated landfall on November 8. In contrast, the command center in Tacloban City was only able to muster initially 8 trucks – after Yolanda struck….


Meetings, meetings!

Rempillo thinks this is why help took so long to reach Yolanda survivors. "Puro meeting sa taas, wala namang nangyari sa baba. It took them 5 days to mobilize," he said. (They always hold meetings at the top, but on the ground nothing was happening.)

The Aquino administration has come under fire for the delayed relief efforts in areas damaged by Yolanda. Days after the typhoon struck, dead bodies continued to litter the streets of Tacloban and many towns went hungry for more than a week.

The command center here also has no ground commander, as admitted by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is already in Manila. It was a consultative process, he added….


Provincial tag teams

"[Yung] nangyari, victim rin sila. Papaano naman magrereport yung mga tao? Hindi sila makapagmobilize," Rempillo said of the Tacloban LGU. (Local officials were victims, too. How will people report for work? They couldn't mobilize.)

That's why Albay sent its team to help….

But Rempillo, whose team went back to Albay on Sunday, November 24, said he'd rather stay away from the politics of disaster. "Our mission was to do ground work," he said.

"I'd like to think we did a good job." 


No ground commander

This Rappler report somehow explained a perplexing story I commented on earlier. Here are relevant excerpts from that blog, titled “Only in PH: Biggest humanitarian effort headless”:

Among the many things the world is learning from our unique experience with the monster typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) is a new organizational experiment in crisis management – no leader.

Let’s take an educational tour with Rappler’s Paterno Esmaquel II, who filed this incredible story:

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – For over an hour, he quizzed disaster officials, aid workers, and government personnel in a conference Wednesday, November 20, on one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history.

Other than the President, in the public eye, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas is the face of the team to rebuild the lives of almost 10 million people hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

But no, Roxas is not the ground commander.


 None such

He said no one actually is

“There is no such title,” Roxas said in a media briefing Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, he noted, chairs the National Risk Reduction and Management Council. He said Gazmin farms out tasks to other officials.

That's the general set-up.

But on the ground, who is the point person? Who calls the shots in the command center based in typhoon-hit Tacloban City?

Roxas shot back, “Wala.” (No one).

“You can see the process that is being undertaken, and it is a consultative process,” said the President's former running mate in the 2010 presidential race, who has taken lead roles in other national crises.  


'Many bosses, no decision-maker'

Rappler went around the command center, the Leyte Sports Complex, to get a feel of the set-up there. The aid workers we spoke to said they're not sure who's really the boss. 

This set-up frustrates a number of them.

“Nang mag-take over ang national government, ang nangyari, parang maraming amo pero walang nagdedesisyon,” an aid worker said on condition of anonymity. (When the national government took over, what happened is that we have so many bosses but nobody makes decisions.)…

On Tuesday evening, November 19, Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim addressed another problem: politics getting in the way of aid. 

“Let us focus on what we have to do, and not allow those who would wish to take opportunity of this situation to further whatever political goals or whatever interest they may have, and divert us from that which we have to do,” Lim said.

Lim said this after Aquino and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez traded barbs over Yolanda.

In apparent reference to Tacloban, Aquino criticized towns and cities that failed to prepare for the typhoon. Romualdez shot back, hinting the President's comments insult the dead.  

Roxas and Romualdez have also taken potshots at each other….


‘Nothing wrong’

In Wednesday's press briefing, Roxas said nothing is wrong about the current set-up. He said the bottom line is, the government is doing its job.

(“All I can say is, since Friday when Yolanda struck, where do we find ourselves now? The airport is open, the seaport is open, all operational. All supply routes are open. All towns are accessible. More than 860,000 food packs have been distributed. One thousand six hundred cadavers have been recovered here in Tacloban City. There are no more reports of looting, of obstructing supplies. Everything is open,” Roxas said in a mix of Pilipino and English. “All of these things, all of these are by the national government.”)

He also said each official gets his own assignment.

The commander of Task Force Yolanda, for instance, is Brigadier General Jet Velarmino, head of the military's 8th infantry division that commands troops based in Eastern Visayas. “That's for certain purposes,” Roxas said.

He said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman also works “for certain purposes.”


'Repacking'

Backing Roxas, Soliman said the administration adopts a “convergent approach.”

(“You know, this administration believes in a convergent approach. This means we all work as one team. So if you say who's in charge, every one of us is answerable to, first of all, the people. As the President says, they're the boss. And our accountability lines go straight to the President,” Soliman said in a mix of English and Pilipino.)

She also called the response to Haiyan a “whole of government approach.” Then, she broke down in tears.

(“Every one of us, the whole of government, national and local, move as one. But more than this, what I want everyone to know – it's also whole of society. The entire private sector, all volunteers, all volunteers here in Tacloban  are repacking. This is whole of society, responding to a crisis. The nation is working as one; that's our message,” she said.)

Still, it's a “whole of society” without a ground commander, Rappler concluded.

If you detected a note of cynicism in that last line, you are probably right.  I did.  

The volunteers – “the whole of society” -- were repacking the aid.

This time we almost made the pieces fit. This time we almost  made some sense of it, didn’t we…?

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com) 

Photo by Alec-Shelbrooke     

Thursday, November 28, 2013

On its knees, Tacloban fights to get back its life


(UPDATED March 14) - Like the legendary Phoenix that rises from the ashes of its own grave, Tacloban is fighting to live again.

More than two weeks after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) destroyed most of Tacloban City, aid continued to pour in, the online news portal Rappler reported.

But Tacloban Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin said interest in Tacloban and other areas devastated by Haiyan will eventually wane.

He told Rappler’s Bea Cupin in Tacloban: “Our window is closing. Another 3 to 5 days, once the media pulls out – there's a next disaster somewhere out there in the next region, the next country – wala na (no more). So what will we do? Kailangan, kaya nga... they're all here, donations are pouring in, we have to make sure we use them wisely and not commit the same mistakes. Enough na for one generation.”

Caught between the devil of a ferocious typhoon and the deep blue sea of politics, Yaokasin seems to have put together the right ideas about rebuilding his city.

The Rappler report continued:

YAOKASIN: It's now time for the legislative part of government to do our share. We're looking to have a master rehabilitation program for Tacloban para hindi masayang 'yung pera, .yung tulong galing sa (so that the money, the aid from the) international community (is not wasted).



Master plan

Yaokasin says it's local government’s priority. (Under the law, vice mayors preside over the city councils.) The master plan should be done by year’s end….

The city council intends to pass laws to improve the city's zoning scheme. The plan involves clearing coastal areas of residents, both legal and informal. It will also mean revising the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Policy and the city’s budget for 2014.

YAOKASIN: We'll map out the city na and see which should be residential, commercial, industrial. It seems like unlike other countries, 'yung coastal area talaga they try to preserve it as much, walang makikitang dumi, they try to protect the environment so maganda (beautiful). Definitely through the years, parami nang parami (more and more)…and the informal settlers, doon sila (they settled there). I think it's about time that we set it up well….

The local government vows to make the most of the aid that’s pouring in.
Yaokasin says it will be a test for local government.

After facing criticism over the slow disaster response and a political tug-of-war with national government, can the LGU, brought down to its knees just weeks ago, get its act together?  Bea Cupin, Rappler, Tacloban, wrapped up her report.


‘Overwhelming’ tasks ahead

The ravaged city of Tacloban has its job cut out for it. Another incisive report from the French news agency, Agence France Presse, spelled out the tasks ahead:

MANILA, Philippines (AFP)- A frantic campaign to reach millions of hungry, injured and homeless people in the Philippines following one of the world's strongest storms is almost over. Now the grinding slog of rebuilding begins.

Experts say it will cost billions of dollars and take years to revive communities that were destroyed when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) swept in from the Pacific Ocean more than a fortnight ago, killing at least 5,200 people.

At 315 kilometers an hour, Haiyan's winds were the most powerful ever recorded to make landfall. Tsunami-like storm surges that crashed hundreds of meters inland were even more devastating, wiping out entire towns.

Ensuring those who survived the storm did not perish in its immediate aftermath has been the top priority, with the main focus on the eastern islands of Leyte and Samar that were already among the poorest in the developing country.

The armed forces of more than a dozen countries joined a giant international relief effort, which continues to rush food, water and medicines and other emergency supplies to millions of people in isolated wastelands.

With aid flowing in more easily, the Philippine government, its international partners and the survivors themselves are starting to address the overwhelming task of rebuilding so many shattered communities.


'Actually apprehensive'

"When you have these kind of problems that are so large, everybody is actually apprehensive," said Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, the former governor of Leyte, who has been appointed head of the government's reconstruction taskforce.

There is no official estimate for the recovery and rehabilitation cost, but Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan has suggested it could be as high as $5.8 billion.

One of the most immediate priorities in the rehabilitation effort is rebuilding or repairing homes for the 4.3 million displaced people.

More than 536,000 homes were completely destroyed, with another 500,000 damaged, according to the government.

Re-establishing a means of employment is an equally urgent task, with 5 million workers having lost their livelihoods, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Before the storm, most of the four million people living on Samar and Leyte endured near-subsistence lifestyles focused on rice and coconut farming, or fishing.

ILO country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said the immediate focus on the employment front was to provide emergency jobs such as working on the clean-up operation.

In the long-run, Johnson said the reconstruction effort should not be about restoring fragile livelihoods, "but about taking the opportunity to help reduce poverty".


'Build back better'

"We're going to help them build back better by teaching them new skills as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders," he told Agence France Presse, the French News agency.

"We will also work with them on how to set up businesses, so they learn how to run a business."

However, farming and fishing will inevitably remain a mainstay of the economies in Samar and Leyte, and others involved in the relief effort are rushing to provide short as well as long-term support to the agriculture sector.

Rodrigue Vinet, the UN food agency's representative for the Philippines, said seeds for vegetables were being sent to farmers so they and their families would be able to have their own food grown within a few months.

Vinet said work must also start immediately to fix irrigation channels and other farming infrastructure so rice crops could be grown in time for harvest in October next year.

"If they do not have that harvest, they will rely on very expensive food aid for a long time," he said.


Improving resiliency

An over-arching theme of the reconstruction effort is trying to ensure communities are less vulnerable to future storms.

"We should look at disaster resiliency... recovery has to happen within the context of better development," United Nations Development Programme regional disaster adviser Sanny Jegillos said at a news conference in Manila.

While Haiyan was one of the strongest typhoons on record, the Philippines is hit by about 20 major storms each year -- with Samar, Leyte and other mostly poor eastern islands on the frontline.

With climate change threatening to increase the ferocity and frequency of such storms, many involved in the reconstruction effort understand that building more homes in vulnerable areas will inevitably lead to another disaster.

"Maybe it's not just a question of 'build back better' but also build back differently and elsewhere," David Carden, head of the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Philippines, told AFP.

Speaking on ABS-CBN television, Energy Secretary Petilla said the government was focused on improving disaster resiliency, but had not yet come up with answers to key issues.

For instance, he said most of the people who died in the storm were in coastal buildings -- flimsy and sturdy -- that were washed away by the storm surges.

"Relocation cannot be in the same place," he said, adding the government intended to enforce a widely flouted law banning houses being built 50 metres from high tide.

"But is 50 metres enough? Should it be one hundred? In this particular storm surge, the water reached up to a kilometre (inland). Where should we draw the line?"


‘This is where our life is’

As the planning and debates among policymakers go on, survivors cannot afford to wait, with potentially deadly mistakes already being made.

In the seaside village of Imelda on Leyte island, fisherman Guillermo Advincula, 58, and his neighbours were last week rebuilding their wooden homes directly along the coast.

"Why am I building my house on the same spot?" he replied to a reporter, puzzled by the question. "Because this is where our life is. We depend on the sea for a living." - AFP

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Photo by hngn.com

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lost in translation: Telling us something, 'di kaya?


(UPDATED March 12) - When I attended a multinational graduate course in Boston decades ago, our professors (retired from the Harvard Business School) found it prudent to indoctrinate us first in the tricky craft of cross-cultural communication.

We were a class of more than 30 students from all over the world, and our venerable professors correctly anticipated some linguistic issues, so they borrowed a friend from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to say a few words to us before we began the course.  (If you will recall, one of President Kennedy’s showcase programs in the early 60s was the Peace Corps, and Americans had accumulated quite a bit of experience in cross-cultural communication.)

To cut a long story short, the gist of the talk was that communication was a two-way process, and the context or nuance of language and culture played as important a role as the message content itself. The general idea was, Westerners spoke directly, perhaps even bluntly, but Orientals spoke courteously in a roundabout way.

Soon we had Americans and Europeans speaking in words so courteous we could not understand them.  We had to tell them directly, even bluntly, to go straight to the point! 


Yolanda lessons

To my delight, I was reminded of this episode recently when we had foreigners coming in droves to help us cope with the disaster.  But first let’s revisit the cross-cultural and communication context.

The CNN’s Anderson Cooper got into hot water with the Philippine government when he called the relief effort disorganized, to say the least.  He is a journalist, and he will call it as he sees it, without mincing words.

Compare his communicating style now to the following examples from the foreigners who are here to help us. 

First let’s hear it from the ambassador from the United Kingdom, which has sent us tons of aid from the beginning. I will reprint the Rappler story so that we don’t lose the flavor and nuance. It was headlined, “UK envoy: ‘All we need is PH govt’s go-signal.”

MANILA, Philippines – British Ambassador to Manila Asif Ahmad on Tuesday, November 26, re-assured the Philippines of the United Kingdom's continued support in rebuilding areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). All the government has to do is tell them what is needed, he said.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Ahmad said that the government is expected to tell them the specific types of assistance and materials needed to help rebuild the typhoon-ravaged communities.

"These sort of relief operations can be just emergency relief, when you bring in fast moving assets, powerful heavy lift of supplies and then you decided that’s enough we can now move on to leave it to the local authorities and other to carry on," Ahmad said.


Determined to help

However, the UK has realized that there is of huge importance to rebuilding homes and rehabilitating sources of livelihood in Yolanda-affected areas.
"We are prepared, financially, and in attitude, and in our determination to do what is necessary," Ahmad added.

But it will be up to the Philippine government which one should they prioritize.

"How the military is deployed, equipped, and used – there [are] so many big issues to be discussed but we don’t want to get ahead of the Philippine government, we want to support what the government here wants."
According to the British Embassy, the UK has so far donated an estimated P3.85 billion in aid.

Two Royal Navy ships, the HMS Daring and HMS Illustrious, were sent to the areas that were hit by Yolanda that are not getting enough attention. A total of 10 British military aircraft are also helping in transporting goods and people in the Visayas.

British medical teams and humanitarian experts from the Department for International Development are also on the ground.

Yolanda struck the central Philippines on November 8, wiping out towns in Eastern Samar and Leyte and killing more than 5,000 people as of Tuesday. The government has said it probably needs P100 billion for reconstruction.


Leaving soon

The British military may soon have to leave the areas affected by the monster typhoon. "There will come a time, I don't want to put exact time... Decisions being made on a weekly basis," Ahmad said.

The exit of military forces may also be taken as a time to move forward from relief to reconstruction.

"The role of the military is to make an immediate and substantial impact, and then walk away," he said, explaining that the military should leave after a sense of normalcy is restored through airport clearing, power restoration, and debris removal. 

He added that extended foreign military presence may also slow down the recovery. "You want the Philippine government agencies to be able to take complete control again as they have every right to," he explained.

But despite the imminent departure of British forces, Ahmad said the UK will continue the assistance through channels preferred by the Philippine government. "I don't think once you've had a calamity of this proportion you can ever take your eye off the ball," he added.

Typhoon Yolanda, Ahmad said, is not an unusual occurrence and therefore is in the interest not just of the Philippines but the international community as well to strengthen response mechanism and climate change adaptation, the Rappler report concluded.

Translation

Using my cross-cultural training, this is what I got: The UK is ready to shift its ad to the next phase, reconstruction and rehabilitation, but it is waiting for the Philippine government to say who, when, where and how.

OVER THE PREVIOUS weekend, the Philippine Star published the following report. I will try to shorten it without losing the flavor: 

Foreign aid is shifting to rebuilding in the typhoon-hit areas, with the United States committed to sustaining assistance through the transition, a top US aid official said yesterday.

Jeremy Konyndyk emphasized that the Philippine government would take the lead in the multinational reconstruction effort.

Konyndyk, who arrived Friday night from the United States, heads the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

He said USAID would seek guidelines from Manila on how best to utilize the massive outpouring of aid from the international community.

“It’s the Philippine government that’s going to be the lead,” Konyndyk told The STAR yesterday. “You need to have some clear leadership for this to work.”

 My translation: “Guys, we are ready to move to the next stage. But lead the way. We don’t want to step on your toes. Take us to your leader.”

That seems as clear and courteous as it can get.  Beyond that we will get lost in the translation.

(The author is chief executive of a management consultancy specializing in public policy and business strategy. E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Photo from theguardian.com

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'We honor them by learning from their death'

By WINSTON A. MARBELLA


UPDATED (March 11) - Now that the relief aid is apparently flowing to the typhoon victims, the search for long-term solutions begins.

Already many ideas have surfaced to address perceived shortfalls in the current disaster risk reduction management systems and structures.

The emerging consensus seems to be to replace the existing law on risk reduction with something more responsive to the monster catastrophes that the environment spawns.

In the rush to find immediate solutions (because the next disaster is already looming over the horizon), the creation of an aid agency is at the top of the agenda.

This super-body, as I recall it, was part of the new law passed by the House of Representatives after the disastrous Ondoy floods in 2009. But the Senate killed it in the bicameral conference committee because it looked like another bureaucratic layer that would cost billions of pesos but not produce the desired solutions.

The Senate may well have been right at that time. But our inadequate response to Yolanda reenergizes the idea of a super-agency to focus on new approaches to disaster risk reduction.

The Senate’s concerns about overlapping structures and costs remain valid points. As Congress looks at legislative solutions, it must be careful not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Certainly there are provisions in the current system and structures that worked.  Maybe the people in charge were just caught napping.  Or they were ill-prepared.  Or perhaps politics just got in the way.

We have to sort out the shortcomings in the search for solutions.  There is a simple tool in the managerial toolkit used in the private sector that might help. (The President has enough private sector representatives in the Cabinet who can walk them through the drill.)


The drill

Conceptually, we have long viewed companies (governments) as productive units of economic enterprise (governance) that provide products (and services) from the wise and judicious use of money (capital), men, machines and material.

This traditional concept of the corporation remains valid, but the onslaught of rapid technological change in a radically changing environment has forced modern companies to evolve a new world view: the company is really a perpetually growing reservoir of ideas. (Presumably, government is no different, hence the barrage of new ideas resulting from Yolanda.)

This shift in perspective has forced modern management thinkers to redraw their priorities from the “hard” factors of production (i.e., money, machines, material) to the “soft” aspects centered on people.  Managing people, in turn, forces management to focus on the factors that impact people profoundly: organizational structures, systems, and, most importantly, culture.


Changing values

Effective structure emphasizes the activities critical to competitiveness. 

Systems, particularly performance measures and reward mechanisms, support superior performance. Reward systems signal what is important to the company and provide incentives to individuals operating critical functions.  

Culture weds strategy to systems and structure because business cultures define successful behavior within the organization.  And because strategy can change more easily than culture, effective leaders must set values and beliefs for the future – ideas and ideals people will live by and die for.


People performance

In the end, people create superior performance.  But because values and beliefs in organizations run strongly, some will have to change when they hamper effective performance.  An example of a value that needs radical change is, “We manage by command and control rather than by empowerment.”

People skills must be especially strong in the areas that drive effective performance. For example, the science of logistics, critical in relief distribution, is considered a basic skill in the armed forces to win wars.


Explicit agenda

An explicit change agenda helps overcome resistance to change. The key is to transform old values and beliefs into new paradigms and effective skills, systems and structures. 

Necessarily, the change agenda must include spreading knowledge at all levels of the organization, developing shared goals and values, energizing desired changes in values and beliefs, reorienting power and influence to support new goals and behavior, and harnessing new technologies. 

All these are mow viewed as critical factors in disaster risk reduction. 


‘Greatest honor’

Describing monster typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) as “a tragedy on a par with the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004” -- which killed hundreds of thousands of people -- the United Nations said the "greatest honor we can pay to those who have lost their lives and their homes in this tragedy is to ensure that everything possible is done to address the underlying risk factors which resulted in such huge loss of life.”

"This is a tragedy on a par with the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 which led to a revolution in official attitudes towards disaster risk and paved the way for agreement on the world's first-ever global framework for disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action which is about to be replaced,” said the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström.

She said Yolanda will be a global “turning point” and will “have a major impact on the discussions now underway on a new global framework for disaster risk reduction.”

In a statement released to the media, Wahlström said that while the Philippines bore the brunt of “this extreme weather event,” other coastal areas especially in Asia faced the same cataclysmic risks.

The world’s strongest typhoon ever to hit land, Yolanda killed thousands of people and devastated entire cities and towns, affecting 9.8 million people, and leaving thousands more homeless, hungry and hopeless.


‘Uncharted territory’

“It is clear that the world is in uncharted territory when it comes to disaster events like Typhoon Haiyan and there is a need for a dramatic scaling up of our efforts to protect vulnerable populations and exposed assets from the threat of natural hazards,” Wahlström said.

“Typhoon Haiyan is a major setback for those of us who thought that the world was becoming more successful in reducing loss of life from major weather events,” she said, stressing that more work was needed.

“There is an urgent need to revisit the links between disasters and poverty. It is clear that education, early warnings, urban planning and building codes are key issues for renewed consideration in a world where all bets are off in terms of disaster impacts” -- a world “where storm surges, violent winds and heavy rains will combine to undermine development efforts.”

It is clear that Congress has its work cut out for it, as it navigates its way into uncharted territory in a world where climate change has gone berserk.

We don't have to reinvent the wheel all over again. All we need to do is put our shoulders behind it -- and our surgically re-engineered noses closer to the grindstone.

(The author is chief executive of a management think tank tracking future trends, Marbella International Business Consultancy.  E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Photo by en.wikipedia.org

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rebuilding lives, rekindling dreams in Tacloban*


*TACLOBAN CITY (Updated March 12) -  Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez has proposed a slew of new laws to build new lives for all victims of calamities.  But first he seeks to eliminate “bureaucratic red tape” which caused the delay in assisting the survivors of killer-typhoon Yolanda.

Romualdez’s district, which includes Tacloban City, was devastated by the typhoon.  

In a privilege speech in the House of Representatives on Monday, he urged the creation of a department or an emergency management authority to be headed by a Cabinet-rank official to replace the current response system that failed to hit the ground running right after the killer storm.

“The current setup has proven to be inadequate in preparing our country from major calamities, which we will inevitably have to face,” Romualdez said. 

“This [new] department will drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate, the bureaucratic red tape that caused the delay in the delivery of relief goods to the victims and clearing operations in the affected areas,” he said.


When LGUs are also victims

“Our local government officials are at the forefront of every problem that may arise in their respective communities. 

“But how can they be mobilized if they don’t have the right resources that may be needed in this kind of situation? 

“Worse, how can we expect them to respond in any kind of situation if they, too, are victims of the same tragedy?” Romualdez said.

Noting that the World Risk Index has ranked the Philippines third among the most vulnerable to disasters, Romualdez urged new laws to give local officials more resources to build safer, adaptive and resilient communities.

“I strongly recommend that we pour our resources preparing for these major calamities. We need to procure more updated rescue and relief equipment like helicopters, ships, vehicles and other related modern technology and apparatus,” he said.


Tax incentives

Romualdez proposed a slew of coordinated actions:

He filed a resolution to allow the spending of P30 billion from the Special Purpose Fund for the rehabilitation of the towns ravaged by Yolanda.  

He also urged creating a Typhoon Yolanda Assistance and Development Commission funded by P25 billion to spur livelihood, rehabilitation and infrastructure support.

He proposed tax incentives for persons and private corporations to help rebuild the typhoon-ravaged towns and cities. “This tax holiday bill comes with an invitation for all entrepreneurs and companies to establish their businesses in these calamity-stricken areas. While they may be starting from scratch, we assure them of utmost cooperation to provide a business-friendly climate,” Romualdez said.

He proposed the creation of a Typhoon Yolanda Development Integration Assistance Program to ensure the education of children in affected communities.  


Successful Indonesian experience

Romualdez’s proposals can benefit from the massive reconstruction effort mounted by the Indonesian government after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

After the disaster, the Indonesian government put up an agency that undertook one of the largest humanitarian programs in history. The agency – Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR), the Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias, oversaw a rehabilitation program that cost about US$ 6.7 billion (around Php 280 B). 

The fund came from contributions from donor agencies and private citizens worldwide. 

Using this outpouring of donations, BRR coordinated the efforts of some 900 organizations from 2005 to 2009. 

10 management lessons

Fortunately for us, the BRR produced a study called "10 Management Lessons for Host Governments Coordinating Post-disaster Reconstruction." 

Considering our apparent inability to learn from our own experience, the BRR report should be required reading for all our personnel in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NRRMC), not to mention all government employees down to the barangay level. (The Indonesian government, which has sent a C-130 for our relief efforts, will be glad to give us enough copies.)

The 10 lessons come in three parts: Organize, Execute and Fund. They focus on the reconstruction and rehabilitation work after the initial relief efforts.

“We have to understand that the extent of their devastation extends beyond the physical,” Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha), said on Monday. “They lost their livelihoods, too.”

“The task of rebuilding here would be monumental for everyone,” he said. 

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Photo from voanews.com

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why our biggest humanitarian effort is headless


(UPDATED March 13) -  Among the many things the world is learning from our unique experience with the monster typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) is a new organizational experiment in crisis management – no leader.

Let’s take an educational tour with Rappler’s Paterno Esmaquel II, who filed this incredible story:

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – For over an hour, he quizzed disaster officials, aid workers, and government personnel in a conference Wednesday, November 20, on one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history.

Other than the President, in the public eye, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas is the face of the team to rebuild the lives of almost 10 million people hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

But no, Roxas is not the ground commander.

He said no one actually is.

“There is no such title,” Roxas said in a media briefing Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, he noted, chairs the National Risk Reduction and Management Council. He said Gazmin farms out tasks to other officials.

That's the general set-up.

But on the ground, who is the point person? Who calls the shots in the command center based in typhoon-hit Tacloban City?

Roxas shot back, “Wala.” (No one).

“You can see the process that is being undertaken, and it is a consultative process,” said the President's former running mate in the 2010 presidential race, who has taken lead roles in other national crises.  


'Many bosses, no decision-maker'

Rappler went around the command center, the Leyte Sports Complex, to get a feel of the set-up there. The aid workers we spoke to said they're not sure who's really the boss. 

This set-up frustrates a number of them.

“Nang mag-take over ang national government, ang nangyari, parang maraming amo pero walang nagdedesisyon,” an aid worker said on condition of anonymity. (When the national government took over, what happened is that we have so many bosses but nobody makes decisions.)…

On Tuesday evening, November 19, Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim addressed another problem: politics getting in the way of aid. 

“Let us focus on what we have to do, and not allow those who would wish to take opportunity of this situation to further whatever political goals or whatever interest they may have, and divert us from that which we have to do,” Lim said.

Lim said this after Aquino and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez traded barbs over Yolanda.

In apparent reference to Tacloban, Aquino criticized towns and cities that failed to prepare for the typhoon. Romualdez shot back, hinting the President's comments insult the dead.  

Roxas and Romualdez have also taken potshots at each other….

In Wednesday's press briefing, Roxas said nothing is wrong about the current set-up. He said the bottom line is, the government is doing its job.

“Ang masasabi ko lang, magmula Biyernes, nang dumating si Yolanda, nasaan na ba tayo ngayon? Nabuksan ang airport, nabuksan ang seaport, operational na. Lahat ng main supply routes, bukas. Lahat ng mga bayan, accessible. More than 860,000 food packs na ang naipamahagi. One thousand six hundred cadavers na ang na-recover dito sa Tacloban City. Wala nang report ng looting, ng panghaharang nitong mga supply. Bukas ang lahat,” Roxas said.

(All I can say is, since Friday when Yolanda struck, where do we find ourselves now? The airport is open, the seaport is open, all operational. All supply routes are open. All towns are accessible. More than 860,000 food packs have been distributed. One thousand six hundred cadavers have been recovered here in Tacloban City. There are no more reports of looting, of obstructing supplies. Everything is open.)

“Lahat itong trabahong ito, kabuuan nito ay national government,” he said. (All of these things, all of these are by the national government.)

He also said each official gets his own assignment.

The commander of Task Force Yolanda, for instance, is Brigadier General Jet Velarmino, head of the military's 8th infantry division that commands troops based in Eastern Visayas. “That's for certain purposes,” Roxas said.

He said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman also works “for certain purposes.”


'Our boss, the people'

Backing Roxas, Soliman said the administration adopts a “convergent approach.”

“Ibig sabihin, lahat kami, one team. Kaya 'pag sinabing sino'ng in charge, lahat kami answerable to, first of all, the people. As the President always says, sila ang boss. And then, yung accountability lines namin, sa Presidente,” Soliman said.

(You know, this administration believes in a convergent approach. This means we all work as one team. So if you say who's in charge, every one of us is answerable to, first of all, the people. As the President says, they're the boss. And our accountability lines go straight to the President.)

She also called the response to Haiyan a “whole of government approach.” Then, she broke down in tears.

“Lahat kami, buong pamahalaan, pambansa at lokal, kumikilos as one. But more than that, 'yun ang gusto kong ipaalam sa lahat – it's also whole of society. Lahat ng private sector, lahat ng volunteers, lahat ng volunteers dito sa Tacloban, nagre-repack sila. This is whole of society, responding to a crisis. Nagkaisa ang bansa; 'yun ang ating mensahe,” Soliman said.

(Every one of us, the whole of government, national and local, move as one. But more than this, what I want everyone to know – it's also whole of society. The entire private sector, all volunteers, all volunteers here in Tacloban are repacking. This is whole of society, responding to a crisis. The nation is working as one; that's our message.)

Still, it's a “whole of society” without a ground commander, Rappler concluded. 


The textbook case

For many years, the response of Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the terrorist attack that brought down two buildings in New York City has been considered the textbook case in crisis management.

Following is the case that I often use to teach “Crisis Management and Response” to many multinational companies:

GROUND ZERO, New York City, 9/11 – The twin towers of the World Trade Center stood tall against a cobalt-blue sky while Mayor Rudy Giuliani was having breakfast with his staff at the classy Peninsula Hotel on 55th Street in midtown Manhattan.


Phone rings

At 8:48 he received the phone call that would change his world—and our lives---forever.




Towering inferno

A jetliner had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center less than a minute earlier. The mayor bolted and raced to the scene near the southern end of Manhattan Island.


Man jumps

Fifteen minutes later, at 9:02, a second plane crashed into the South Tower.  Giuliani and his staff were on the scene at 9:20, some 22 minutes after he received the call. Looking up, Giuliani saw a man jump from the burning building.


Setting priorities

“I immediately had two priorities,” Giuliani was to recall later in his memoir, Leadership.  “We had to set up a new command center.”  


Plan B right away

The city’s Emergency Command Center, housed in a smaller building nearby at 7 World Trade Center, was in grave danger; Giuliani ordered an immediate evacuation.


Communicate

“And we had to find a way to communicate with people in the city,” he recalled.


Plan B in place

At 9:50, 30 minutes after he arrived at Ground Zero, Giuliani had set up a temporary command center on Barclay Street, a block away. The two towers were aflame but standing. 


Trapped!

Just as he was about to talk to the White House, the South Tower crumbled—and his staff was momentarily trapped in their makeshift office.


2nd tower crumbles

At the corner of Chambers Street and West Broadway, Giuliani was in the middle of a press briefing when the North Tower collapsed. It was 10:26, a minute short of 100 minutes since the first plane struck. 


Code Red

All the landlines in Lower Manhattan were dead, and Giuliani’s cell phones were dying. He had to go on air immediately to talk to the people of his city. 





‘Too much to bear!’

On Channel 1 he asked the people to remain calm, although casualties would be “too much to bear.”  He briefed them of the latest developments, and then he was back at crisis center.


Get organized

At a temporary command center at the Police Academy on 20th Street, Giuliani gathered most of the heads of the city’s emergency services and the police and fire commissioners. (The city’s fire and police chiefs had died rescuing people when the towers collapsed.)


War room

They set up a war room with Giuliani as war commander. At 2:35 p.m. the war commander went live on TV.  He asked the people “to go about their lives as normal.” 


‘New York stands’

At the 6 p.m. briefing he said: “New York is still here.  We’ve undergone tremendous losses, but New York is going to be here tomorrow morning…”


Five return trips

Giuliani would return to Ground Zero five times that day, reassuring New Yorkers that everything that could be done was being done.  





‘Courage personified’

Back on air shortly, David Letterman said: “…all you had to do at any moment was watch the mayor.  Watch how this guy behaved.  Watch how this guy conducted himself…. (He) was the personification of courage.”


Back to work

The day after the attack, Giuliani was back to his usual upbeat mood, encouraging business owners to reopen. 


‘We are hurting’

“We are mourning, we hurt and we are going to hurt tomorrow, the next day, for a month, a year, or maybe forever…. But we have to be optimistic…. We have a problem to overcome. But overcoming the economic problems is going to be the least of it.”


Broadway reopens

He cajoled the theater owners to reopen on the 13th.  He got the stock exchange to reopen on the 15th, although he had wanted them operational on the 12th.


Leadership redefined

In leading his city back on its feet, Rudy Giuliani wrote a new chapter on leadership – how leaders will be rated by the stakeholders they serve, public and private.


Four lessons

The first day’s responses alone provided many lessons that have become standard operating procedure in crisis management, organization, planning and control 


Visible leadership

First, leadership must be visible, on scene, in control and decisive. It boosts morale among those who will have to risk their lives to save lives. Designate a spokesperson to handle media inquiries.


Express concern

Second, defuse the situation.  Express concern to the families of those affected. Then go to the verified facts quickly: “Here is the situation as much as we have verified it. We have set up a crisis control center at (place).  Mr. (name) is in charge. Here are his hotlines for quick updates and verification.”


‘What we are doing’

Third, announce the following: “Here are some emergency procedures we have put in place (police lines, checkpoints, media coverage guidelines, hospitals, location and telephone numbers). We will update you as the situation unfolds (or at specified hours and places).‘


‘This won’t happen again’

Fourth, announce the medium-term and long-term procedures being put up to minimize risk, resolve the situation as quickly as possible, and lessen chances of its happening again. 


Personal appeal

Then make a personal appeal: “We seek your understanding and prayers. May Almighty God help us and keep us safe.” 


Iconic image

Soon this iconic image would be pasted in our memory indelibly: Mayor Giuliani emerging from the catacombs of the New York City subway, arriving at Ground Zero with his staff—his hair, face and shoulders covered with dust from the crumbled concrete of the mightiest symbols of the American century.  

That day all Americans stood tall.  


Apples and oranges

The intelligent philosophers among us will say that the two situations are like comparing apples and oranges.  They are right, of course. That’s why we never learn.

Apples and oranges are different.  But they are both vegetables, I suspect?!

(E-mail mibc2006@g,ail.com.)