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The Sad Disparity Between the Money the Philippines Needs, and What It Got

The world promised a lot of financial assistance after Typhoon Haiyan, but little of the cash has actually materialized.


In the wake of the unimaginably destructive Super Typhoon Haiyan in early November, the world promised a lot to help rebuild the Philippines. (Most of the world, anyway.) But how much of that foreign aid has made it to the disaster zone, where it's desperately needed to provide food, shelter, and other necessities to 4.1 million displaced people?

Not a heck of a lot, to believe this gloomy new visualization from Chris Walker, a data-obsessed dude living in Mumbai. (You might recall his map of American migration patterns.) Walker has taken the cash aid pledged by foreign countries and lined it up against what the Philippines has received in the wake of the strongest landfall-making storm in known history, which killed 5,670 and injured more than 26,000. Then he compared those figures to the staggeringly larger amount of economic damage the typhoon dealt to crops, livestock, irrigation facilities, and other parts of infrastructure. Here's how the breakdown looked on December 2:

Hover over the green circles to find what each country or organization has pledged. The Asian Development Bank has offered $23 million, for instance, while Canada is going with about $19 million and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have proffered $10 million apiece. The shriveled blueberry at center is the $12 million that's actually trickled through to the Philippines. Superimpose it against the $783 million in estimated typhoon damages at right, and it's like looking at the Earth shrinking in the face of the massive Sun.

A couple caveats must be made: These figures come from the Philippines' portal for overseas-contributions reporting, the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH). They represent the cash aid promised, and do not include non-cash assistance or the $1 billion reconstruction package offered by the World Bank or the $523 million loan and grant deal from the Asian Development Bank. "Only cash aid is shown because data for non-cash aid received are either unavailable or unreliable," Walker writes. "The FAiTH website reports that foreign governments have pledged $337,774,506 in non-cash aid."

Some people believe cash aid to be much more valuable to disaster survivors than shipments of goods and other material assistance. The United States has pledged $55.4 million in non-cash aid, for what it's worth.

Walker has a few other things to say about FAiTH's accounting, which he is using to update the visualization on a regular basis:

I think there are two things going on here. One is that the FAiTH hub, despite initial hopes (e.g., see here, here), is not 100% transparent in what has been received. I suspect that the Foreign Aid Received number reflects only cash aid. The second thing is... there is [likely] a delay in getting aid to victims due to bureaucracy. As far as disasters go I don't think this requirement is unique to the Philippines typhoon, although I'm not an expert on United Nations relief coordination. I learned through a reporter in the Philippines that most foreign aid pledges will only materialize if the Philippines government presents the donor countries with an acceptable project plan for using the money. This could hold up aid money indefinitely....

Bottom line is this: I created the graphic to ask the question, "What has been done for the victims of this disaster?" Taking the Philippines government data at face value, it appears not enough.

Graphic courtesy of Chris Walker. Top image: Men sit atop a structure and watch the sunrise in an devastated area at Tacloban City on November 25, 2013. (Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.