A helping hand for Philippines

As the challenge of reconstruction begins in the Philippines after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, it is imperative that Japan helps its neighbor. The Philippines was one of the most important contributors to the relief effort after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and now Japan has the chance to return the favor.

Japan has much to offer the Philippines. Already, Japan has sent medical workers, disaster relief experts and Ground Self-Defense Force members. However, Japan should help longer than for the immediate necessities over the next few weeks. It is important that reconstruction be durable and substantial. The Philippines, like Japan, will remain vulnerable to typhoons. However, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that a typhoon of the same intensity would have 17 times less destruction if it were to hit Japan.

The infrastructure in the Philippines is one of the major obstacles to safety. Japan can help with the construction of roads and airports in remote areas, and help to provide housing. Thousands still remain homeless, a recurrent problem. In 2011, for example, the year of the Great East Japan disasters, typhoons forced three times as many Filipinos from their homes as did the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.

Unlike Japan, most of the damaged homes, buildings and other valuables are not insured in the Philippines. Much of the worst damage is also in the poorest areas, making rebuilding difficult, but all the more necessary. Japan should offer long-term support this time to ensure that buildings, roads and shelters are typhoon-resistant at last.

Corruption is likely to hamper relief efforts, but also made conditions worse. Local governments often cannot enforce building codes on buildings because of endemic graft. Japanese government organizations and private-sector NPOs and NGOs can help ensure that donations go toward the people most in need and not be siphoned off into corrupt channels in the near and long term.

The typhoon will set the Philippine economy back even worse than Japan’s after the disasters in 2011. Some reports have estimated the losses will come to $12 billion to $15 billion, devastating amount in a developing country. Typhoon Haiyan may have wiped out the equivalent of 5 percent of the country’s economic output, in contrast to the 1 percent of gross domestic product that Typhoon Sandy erased when it hit the United States last year.

This year’s typhoon was especially ruinous and deadly, but for three years in a row, typhoons have killed more than 1,000 people in the Philippines despite government initiatives and preventive measures. Much of the damage and loss of life is preventable if only the Philippines can rebuild, with Japan’s help, in a longer-term way that will protect life and ensure safety.