Listening to and involving communities at the design, planning and implementation stages of post-disaster recovery is key to achieving better outcomes and longer-term recovery, says research into the effectiveness of the aid efforts to the Visayas region of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

Typhoon Yolanda, the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record in the modern era, left at least 6,300 people dead, four million more displaced and over a million homes destroyed. The total number of people affected by the typhoon, in terms of livelihood, environmental and food security, was approximately 16 million.

In a three-year collaborative project, researchers at the University of Nottingham, UK and the University of Nottingham, Ningbo (China), in partnership with the University of the Philippines, have worked closely with local communities to identify the lessons from Typhoon Yolanda. The research team carried out 200 interviews with NGOs and local government personnel; held 50 focus groups with local people; and undertook three annual surveys (2015 to 2017) in 800 households from the region.

Findings indicate that community rebuilding is more sustainable when communities are actively involved in schemes such as 'sweat equity', where beneficiaries donate their labour to the housing schemes that they will eventually occupy, and in the design and planning stages of their communities. However, the findings also revealed examples of lip service being paid to community involvement without it happening in a sustainable fashion. For sustainable rehabilitation to take place, more work needs to be done to engage the most vulnerable people within communities, such as women and ‘own account’ (or self-employed workers).

"Our research has contributed to the awareness of NGOs – including foreign aid agencies, and some national and local policymakers and government officials – of the need to further engage local communities in the rebuilding and rehabilitation of their communities," Dr Pauline Eadie concludes.