Why it Happened

(published 10 November 2014, MST)

Those who lived to tell about Yolanda have numerous stories about where they were and what they did during and after the storm which pummeled the central Philippines last year.
These individual stories of courage, heroism and resilience convince us that the Filipino spirit is indomitable. They inspire us to move forward despite the loss and the destruction.
But there are also stories that we must hear in an attempt to make sense of what happened and explain why we as a people were overwhelmed by the typhoon.
Only by acknowledging these lessons can we dare to be resilient the next time a disaster as formidable and unforgiving as Yolanda—Haiyan to the international community—comes. 
These learnings at the national and local level are told and compiled in a book called Y It Happened, which will be launched at 2 PM today, Monday at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria in Ortigas Center.
The book is supported by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and was undertaken by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council through the Office of Civil Defense. 
“Y It Happened” weaves stories from the most affected cities, municipalities and regions and views them within the framework of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management.
Haiyan, says Robert Francis Garcia, head writer of the book, “which is a complex disaster that entailed an elaborate response, also needed a deliberate, nuanced, methodical and multi-tiered process of reflection.”
The book does not intend to lay blame on any individual or community. It focuses instead on the lessons that can be drawn from the Yolanda experience and hope to use these lessons as springboards from which to strengthen the country’s/ communities’ DRR mechanisms.
What can be learned from Yolanda will also benefit other countries in Asean and in the world as they deal with their own disaster risks.
Under Republic Act 10121 or the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law that was passed in 2010, dealing with disasters is so much more than responding to the needs of affected citizens and providing them relief in the aftermath.
DRR has four thematic areas, namely: Prevention and Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Rehabilitation and Recovery. Efforts and specific actions under the areas are led by the Department of Science and Technology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development and National Economic and Development Authority,  respectively.
The book also intends to identify gaps under the existing DRRM set-up, mechanisms and policies.
“Y It Happened” has four parts. Part I, Long Before Yolanda, discusses the DRRM environment in the Philippines and the series of natural and human-induced disasters in 2013.
Part II, In the Eye of the Storm, deals with the events on November 8, 2013 and after. It contains tales and lessons from local areas and from regions most affected.  The lessons are arranged according to the thematic areas under which they fall.
Part III contains the reflections of key players during the Yolanda experience as well as the role of civil society and media.
Finally, Part IV deals with the grueling task of recovery and rehabilitation in the pursuit of “Building Back Stronger” battlecry.
The book draws from actual site visits, key informant interviews and focus group discussions with all stakeholders:  local chief executives and local employees, community leaders and volunteers, civil society actors and ordinary residents.   
“Assembling the raw experiences and insights brought forth by supertyphoon Yolanda into a coherent narrative was a daunting task,” adds Garcia.  “We all hunkered down to work with high hopes, tired but inspired. Just as we saw that houses were being fixed, wounds were starting to heal, and communities were trying to bounce back stronger.”
(Disclosure: The author is one of the researchers for the book.)