In the wake of the super typhoon Yolanda’s onslaught that left many provinces in bleak state, staggering amounts worth of financial aid for relief and disaster response have been announced by foreign donor governments, private foundations and philanthropic organizations. Once again, the international community has proven its readiness to extend a helping hand to nations in need. As of Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said total international assistance has reached P3.8 billion (mix of cash donations and monetary value of in-kind donations).
But how sure are we that every centavo pledged will land in good hands and reach our kababayans struggling to survive in the storm’s aftermath?
Such worry arises as the sickening misuse of pork barrel funds by public officials is still fresh in our minds. Distrust is in the air especially as we saw how billions of public funds have only gone to sustain lavish lifestyles instead of benefitting poor Filipinos – some of which perished during the storm, lost their loved ones, lost their home, starving, or even dying as you read this. Eyes should be trained on the amounts flowing in before it’s too late.
#AidMonitorPH: Tracking aid channels
And so a group of netizens discussed the need to track aid flows and started #AidMonitorPH, a collaborative effort on Yolanda aid monitoring. The idea behind the aid monitoring is that all financial aid for Yolanda victims should be accounted for, with the transfers and disbursement to partner agencies and communities monitored. It must be ensured that the current outpouring of financial aid translates to immediate relief on the ground.
This may seem a difficult task, but we can start with the monitoring of aid amounts, the growing list of donors, and recipient government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs).
Through the hashtag #AidMonitorPH, press information on financial aid from major donors is crowdsourced. Foreign donors, foundations, and citizens can use the hashtag along with the announcement or report on financial pledges. A smaller team meanwhile curates the crowsourced information on Yolanda aid and inputs it to a shared spreadsheet on Google Docs. (Check this url http://goo.gl/2AYD9m or the spreadsheet below)
Other initiatives have also been launched in social media to keep tab of the money coming in for Yolanda victims – all attesting to the people’s greater vigilance in the wake of the pork scandal.
1) What kind of assistance are we monitoring?
While any form of humanitarian assistance is welcome, financial donations will be the focus of monitoring since these are vulnerable to corruption and misuse. It is then necessary to take note the difference between purely financial aid from mix of cash donations and relief goods (usually valued in monetary terms by donors).
2) What are the aid sources that must be tracked?
Priority is given to major aid sources, which include 1) foreign donor governments (which often course their assistance through their aid agencies) 2) multilateral organizations (Asian Development Bank, World Bank) 3) private foundations and other philanthropic organizations 4) corporations. It should be noted that a corporations’ foundation arm is a separate entity. Below is a partial list of Yolanda aid donors and the categories where they belong:
Aid information can be found and verified on the following online sources:
– Embassy websites
– media reports
– DFA website
– www.gov.ph (which publishes its own matrix of Yolanda aid)
3) Where do the financial pledges go?
In a release, the DFA said most of the financial assistance does not go through the government, adding that donors channel their financial aid to their aid agencies, or chosen nongovernment organizations and charitable institutions.
“The DFA, as the first point of contact for the international community, is notified of pledges of international assistance. The DFA will then pass on the information to the NDRRMC and other agencies involved in relief and rehabilitation efforts,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Hernandez said.
Normally, aid agencies have identified development partners in the recipient country. For disaster and relief operations, most donors prefer to channel aid directly to Red Cross due to its technical expertise and experience on such realm. But other civil society groups are also receiving a share of the aid outpouring. These groups should be identified, and contacted to verify if committed financial aid is received and spent properly.
Other donors channel their aid to multilateral bodies, which have standing relief and rehabilitation programs in developing countries. For instance, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the NBA Players’ Association chose to course through their $250,000 initial assistance to UNICEF.
4) What are some issues related to aid delivery?
Corruption and fund misuse sit on top of our concerns amid the outpouring of aid to Yolanda victims. But there are other issues related to aid delivery that may also arise. For one, donors may step back on or cut their disaster aid commitments, as in the case of Syria. According to the UN, some $1.5 billion in aid pledged to the strife-torn country has largely failed to materialize. It is then necessary to cross-check actual aid transfers with pledges announced by donors.
Another issue is aid fragmentation, which we will likely see in the absence of a clear government aid monitoring mechanism. What could probably be in place right now is a disorganized web of aid efforts, as controversially pointed out by CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. It is imperative for the national government to put in place a collaborative platform where foreign and local donors can coordinate relief activities to maximize strengths and deliver aid where it is badly needed.
By collating better aid information for Yolanda victims, we are one step ahead of the crooks. In this way, we can also identify accountability points and come up with recommendations for better aid delivery. Hopefully after this exercise, we can take up the next big thing – and that is to ensure that foreign aid translates to sustainable development results that are based on human rights, gender equality, environmental sustainability and decent work.
Carlos Maningat is a labor rights advocate. He was part of the Philippine delegation to the 2011 Fourth High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan, South Korea. He tweets as @jcmaningat, and blogs at chrocarlos.wordpress.com/i>