How the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Helps Typhoon-Ravaged Areas Get Back on Their Feet

When a deadly storm has just destroyed your neighborhood, first things come first: survival. You want food, water, shelter, and medical attention for any injuries you’ve incurred. But once you’ve gotten all those bases covered, chances are you’ll be giving some thought to getting your pre-storm life and livelihood back. This latter concern is on the minds of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s philanthropic-giving team, too—in the aftermath of the Philippines’ abnormally destructive Typhoon Haiyan, Gates is responding in kind, not so much with food and survival kits, but with resources for reconstructing homes and neighborhoods from out of the wreckage.

Lutheran World Relief arrived on the post-typhoon scene with $800,000 in funding from Gates. The funding paid for four specific items:

  • Shelter repair kits
  • A cash-for-work program that pays residents of affected areas to clear debris from the streets
  • Distribution of cooking utensils, plates, and other “non-food” supplies
  • Training local government agencies and NGOs on emergency-response outreach

The game plan strikes a contrast with that of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, which directed $100,000 to the UN’s World Food Programme for its typhoon response. Why would food be absent from Gates’ to-do list?

Gates’s webpage on emergency response indicates why. It lays out three priorities on which the foundation follows through when it is aiding a disaster site: The first is “responding directly to emergencies,” much like the World Food Programme is doing; but the second is “a longer-term strategy to help improve the speed and performance of our partners in the first critical hours of an emergency”; and the third, “help communities prepare for disasters and recover more quickly after an emergency.”

Food and other vitals matter to Gates. But the foundation concerns itself just as much with life in the affected communities after the immediate cleanup and rescue operation. It looks for ways to help displaced residents get their lives back. And even more important, it tries to leave them better prepared for any future disaster.

The Lutheran World Relief program described above exemplifies this. It offers a direct emergency response in the shelter kits. Then it mobilizes residents to take up active roles in restoring their neighborhoods, while also putting money in their pockets—sounds like a great strategy for reviving morale and getting a community back up and running. And it gets authorities better trained to anticipate the next disaster, so that when it does hit, they will be faster and more effective, and the recovery will be quicker.

It goes without saying that natural disasters are beyond our control to prevent. The best any community can do is to anticipate them and to be resilient in the face of them. Fortunately, communities everywhere will have a dependable partner in meeting these goals in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.