FAO in the Philippines

FAO, partners test readiness of Anticipatory Action Multi-Purpose Cash transfer scheme in event of severe typhoon hit

A field-level simulation exercise of Anticipatory Action Protocols is necessary as the concept is still relatively new. The exercise enables implementors to sort-out gaps and challenges prior to deployment in live scenarios.

The anticipatory action multipurpose cash transfers scheme simulation exercise conducted by FAO with partners in typhoon-prone Catanduanes.

With the increasing attention to change the way how disasters are managed, FAO is at the forefront of demonstrating how to act before (ex-ante) a disaster targeting smallholder farmers and fisherfolk to protect, cope and adapt to multiple shocks. One of the key strategies is to implement a humanitarian approach largely known as Anticipatory Action (AA) and link it with a robust social protection system. AA Protocols (AAP) contain step-by-step processes and has the following key elements: forecast, early warning, triggers, anticipatory action such as multipurpose cash (MPC) transfers and financing. As this is a relatively new approach, a field-level simulation exercise (SimEx) is necessary to sort-out gaps and challenges prior to actual deployment.

In this context, FAO-Philippines and partners conducted a SimEx to field test an AA MPC transfer scheme that is to be executed 72 hours before a severe typhoon hits. Under the project “Transforming the face of agriculture: Promoting the face of socio-economic inclusion”, FAO partnered with the Provincial Government of Catanduanes, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agency the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and CARE International to identify and pre-register the most vulnerable smallholder and landless farmers and fisherfolk in two-typhoon prone municipalities of Gigoto and Baras.

The SimEx came at the heels of Typhoon Rai (local name: Odette) that roared through  Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan), Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and the Caraga Region from 16 to 17 December, barely missing Catanduanes and Region 5. More than 10 000 villages and millions of people in the path of the typhoon were said to have been severely affected as Typhoon Rai strengthened from a Category 1 to 5 typhoon in just one day, making it difficult for people to prepare for the arrival of the storm or to evacuate.

For two and half days from 20 to 22 December, FAO and partners tested an ex-ante release of Multi-Purpose Cash within 72 hours prior to the projected landfall of a Category 4 typhoon. This included MPC distribution through the pay-out centers of MLhuiller, the Development Bank of the Philippines’ (DBP) Financial Service Provider. The SimEx also tested Standard Operating Procedures, coordination mechanisms, communication messages and channels that would be used in the event of an actual anticipatory activation. Through the SimEx, Php 3 220 was provided to identified beneficiary-families to cover expenses for transportation, basic needs, livelihood augmentation to cushion the impact of earlier emergencies, and the prolonged negative socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Day 1 of the SimEx (representing Day -3 of a projected typhoon landfall), the Provincial Government of Catanduanes, led by the governor’s office and technical guidance from FAO, the provincial Core Group participated in the table-top exercise. Upon reaching the agreed threshold and activation trigger, the members of the Core Group simulated their roles as well as the communication channels and messages that would be cascaded from FAO to the provincial local government unit (PLGU) and FAO Field Office and onto the barangays and the farming and fishing families. This segment of the SimEx provided an opportunity for FAO and key partners to understand the process and identify and address challenges that may be encountered in an actual scenario such as electricity disruptions, IT bottlenecks, and limited logistics support that could hamper the AA MPC transfers. 

Day 2 of the SimEx (or Day -2 of a projected typhoon hit) saw funds from FAO transferred to the MLhuiller cash pay-out centers in Virac, Catanduanes. This transfer is effected through a Memorandum of Understanding between the PLGU and DBP. While the transfer is underway, messages were simultaneously sent to the intended beneficiaries informing them of to pick up their multipurpose cash payouts of Php 3 220 pesos within two days. In this SimEx segment, communication channels and key messages were tested. Within two hours of the release of the advisory, pre-registered farmers and fisherfolk from the municipality of Baras started arriving at the MLhuiler pay-out centers. Volunteers from FAO, BFAR, CARE International and the Provincial Chapter of the Philippine Red Cross assisted to fast-track the checking of beneficiaries’ ID’s, verifying unique reference codes, and obtaining feedback. The responses gathered from the participating farmers and fisherfolk recipients of the MPC has been overwhelmingly positive.

Beneficiary testimonies of AA MPC transfer benefits

Joselito Barba, 57 years old is a small-holder farmer planting high value crops like cassava and pechay in his 1.2 hectare land in the municipality of Baras, Catanduanes. His main source of income was wiped out when Super Typhoon Goni hit in 2020. The community lock downs due to the pandemic added to the uncertainty of getting back on his feet. What made matters worse was that in October 2021, he himself became COVID positive. Since he lived by himself, he had no one to support him on a daily-basis relying on the goodness of neighbors to provide food. He had to quarantine himself and stop planting for more than a month. With the MPC support given by the PLGU of Catanduanes and FAO, he is hopeful that it will help him get through the holidays. In the event of a real anticipatory activation, he is more confident that there are programs like this that can help him better prepare.

At 72 years old, Amelita Garcia Zuniga is a laborer in a rice farm in Baras, Catanduanes. For years, she has always had to work the fields to help support her family. Upon receiving the multi-purpose cash distributed by FAO and the PLGU as part of the Anticipatory Action SimEx, she was able to buy a sack of rice to feed her family. She said that this is a blessing that cannot be measured especially in very difficult times like these. Catanduanes has always been at risk of being hit by very strong typhoons. Amelita is thankful that Typhoon Odette did not hit the province directly. She is aware that this activity is a way to prepare them for the next big typhoon. In the meantime, she can enjoy the holidays with her family.

Paul Alcantara is a seasonal fishing laborer and construction worker. With two children and his wife pregnant with their third child, it has been very challenging to make ends meet. At the height of the strict quarantine work restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paul lost his job for two months as a construction worker. He used to earn Php 2 000 for six days of work. Before COVID, he made his income as a seasonal fishing laborer from March to June, earning an average of Php 5 000 pesos per trip. But that earning would usually have to be divided among the other fisher-laborers and the boat owner. To make ends meet, he goes out to sea even during the typhoon season, risking his life. With the MPC he received through this SimEx, he will buy food for his family and maybe even some presents for his children this Christmas.