27 May 2014 | Julia Blocher

Challenging the picture of disaster-induced displacement: the evolving reality post-Typhoon Haiyan

May marks six months since Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines, leaving some 4 million people internally displaced in its wake. A joint report produced by IDMC and the international Organisation for Migration (IOM) exposes the limits of the common assumption that when people are displaced by disasters, their situation is temporary and they return home within short periods of time. The report highlights the complexity of the displacement dynamics in the Philippines, where the recovery and resettlement process remains an ongoing challenge for most, and where key information gaps leave some of the most vulnerable people invisible.


Today, we have six months’ worth of evidence from a dynamic and rapidly evolving – and persisting - displacement crisis, involving multiple locations, types and phases of movement of people displaced by the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines.

According to government data, only 2.5 per cent of over 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) found shelter in evacuation centres, as most people created makeshift and spontaneous settlements, were accommodated in transitional bunkhouses and tent cities, or dispersed to stay with host families or in private accommodation. In the initial phase of the crisis, thousands fled the worst affected regions, with many heading to Manila and other cities.

There’s no quick fix for disaster displacement

When sudden-onset disasters strike, most displaced people tend to stay close to their original homes, returning to rebuild their lives as soon as they can. While most displaced people in the Philippines have remained in, or returned to, their home areas, experience shows that return does not necessarily provide a long-term solution to displacement. A complex set of vulnerabilities point to the reality of prolonged displacement following the destruction caused by Haiyan.

In addition to pre-emptive and rapid flight  as the typhoon approached and made landfall, a main cause of the initial displacement was the severe damage to more than 1.1 million houses - about half of them completely destroyed - leaving millions of people without shelter.

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The scale and severity of this and other damage to community infrastructure increases the likelihood of prolonged displacement, as return is delayed and reconstruction needs are greater. Today, some 2 million people remain without adequate shelter or housing, and 26,523 IDPs are living in collective sites.

An estimated 200,000 people are caught in limbo as they wait to see whether or not their home areas will be classified as ‘’no dwelling zones’’ by the government, meaning that they would be deemed unsafe due to a high risk from further hazards, and cannot permanently return. As was the case with Typhoon Washi (Sendong) in 2011, such classifications result in many people being displaced for longer than expected as they are forced to seek alternatives to return.

Displaced Filipinos who have been unable to return home to resettle are among the most vulnerable and poorest of the affected population. Furthermore, specific vulnerabilities and disadvantages that hinder displaced families from thriving are challenges that tend to grow over time.  Where these same people lack access to information and are not identified in monitoring and assessments by the government and other actors, they are often the least visible also.

Inclusive and better data is critical to adequately address specific needs

In the Philippines and elsewhere, large gaps exist in information on displacement situations. This is complicated by the complexity of movement patterns, but also extends to the understanding of the location and well-being of displaced men, women and children in the medium- and long-term.

Greater information and analysis is needed in order to inform ongoing responses that build upon patterns of resilience and positive coping mechanisms, such as ensuring access to education for IDP children and diversifying income sources for displaced families. Comprehensive data - disaggregated by age, gender, and disability - can help to identify blind spots and trends, which in turn helps humanitarians to target programs and assistance more effectively.

Six months on, the focus of assistance in the Philippines has shifted markedly from emergency response to longer-term recovery and development, as IDPs return or relocate to permanent settlement areas. More than ever, there is a need for coordinated assessments and effective information sharing among different actors including local authorities, humanitarian organisations, and development actors.

A first step will be to harmonise the different types of information that is being produced by different actors and agencies. Comprehensive information gathering should, for example, include the needs of IDPs in host family situations, those that have not yet been able to return, those whose homes or new housing are deemed unsafe or at-risk, and those who are at risk of being forcibly evicted from temporary lodging.

For future disasters, more systematic monitoring and analysis of the different and changing displacement patterns that people take should be carried out as the picture evolves, with attention to the critical transitions between different locations and phases of displacement.

As the typhoon season prepares to rear its head yet again, IDPs already living in exposed and vulnerable situations face an ever higher risk of falling victim yet again. Sustained assistance and protection is critical to ensure voluntary, safe and dignified long-term solutions for vulnerable and displaced people, wherever they may flee to.

For more information, see the joint report by the Government of the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), SAS Visual Analytics and IDMC, the Evolving Picture of Displacement in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

See also the IOM Philippines Response page and blog post, 'Prolonged Uncertainty for Filipinos Displaced by Haiyan.'


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