Climate Change, Conflict and Poverty: a Week of Volunteering in the Philippines

Lord McConnell
February 13, 2014

After arriving in the Philippines and a day of briefings with my hosts Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) Bahaginan and Beyond 2015, I will spend the weekend in Tacloban on the island of Leyte. This is where Typhoon Haiyan caused most damage in November 2013, killing over 6000 across the Eastern Philippines and displacing 400,000.

I suspect it will be a sobering experience. I hear stories of the resilience of the local farmers and their families, but they face a long uphill struggle to get rebuild their lives. Crops, land, homes, buildings and roads have been torn away. The world has been generous, not least in the UK where public donations were matched by government aid, but this could be all stopgap unless the momentum for reconstruction is maintained.

Then I will be back to the capital Manila for my week as an ‘Eminent Volunteer’ assisting Beyond 2015 in their dialogue with Government, national agencies and others over both current programmes and long-term ambitions.

Thanks to Voluntary Service Overseas who have prepared this opportunity very professionally. VSO has worked in over 90 countries and has placed over 40,000 volunteers. They also have partners in many countries including VSO Bahaginan in the Philippines.

Travelling here via Dubai, I was reminded of the many, many Filipinos who live and work abroad. They send money home and I am sure that is welcomed, but their lives must be miserable, trapped so far away with harsh conditions and little chance to visit family. How much better would it be if there were jobs and opportunities for them at home?

So, why am I here? Firstly, extreme poverty is not just an African problem, it exists in Asia and elsewhere too. If we are to eradicate it by 2030 then action must be truly global. And especially in a country of this size, facing the challenges it does, a partnership between government, private sector and civic representatives is a must.

And secondly, here both climate change and conflict affect the pace of development. As I arrive, a negotiated agreement in the south of the country has held for its first weeks. There a complex clash of identities and powerful interests has claimed many lives over decades. In Mindanao the time has come for peace and political devolution.

I hope to help the Filipino organisations influence their government, and build the capacity of the local development NGOs to contribute to the global debate. And I hope to come back having learned much that I can then add to the debate on post-2015 in the UK and globally.

I am a Philippines virgin, but it is a fascinating country: over 7000 islands, 100 million people, 25% of whom live in extreme poverty and a GDP/capita similar to the one of Congo-Brazzaville.

For the next week or so, I will experience that complexity in a deep and meaningful way. There must be few better places in the world to engage with the challenges posed by development, conflict and climate change. I hope my updates here, and my contribution, are worthy of them.


Originally published on the blog Lords of the Blog.

Photo by United Methodist News Service.


PN Member Lord McConnell, former First Minister of Scotland, is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa in the UK Parliament. He was Member of the Scottish Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw from 1999 to 2011 and served as the Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Special Representative for Peacebuilding from 2008 to 2010.

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