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The Philippines Will Be Saved By Filipinos

This article is more than 5 years old.

Helicopters, troops and ships are critical, but the Philippines will truly be saved by small bits of cash, $20, $50, $100 at a time. Called remittances, this cash flows in from Filipinos living and working abroad trying to help their families. Before long, this flow will become a river in response to the typhoon.

The Philippines is the fourth largest recipient of remittances in the world. Last year $23 billion arrived in remittances, about 12 percent of the country’s entire national income. It reaches more than 23 percent of the population, most of whom are poor, and comes primarily from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Long before governments can rebuild bridges, remittances are already buying food.

This money is from private donors. It flows in whether countries send official aid or not. Long before governments can rebuild bridges, remittances are already buying food. Shortly after the Haitian earthquake, Haitians resumed sending remittances while some of the official aid remained frozen long after the disaster.

Remittances are grass-roots, passed from one hand to another. They rely on post offices, banks, money transfer companies, the internet, or travelers. Filipinos living abroad also send food and goods. Remittances impact the very bottom of the economy, which is otherwise difficult to reach..

Many well-regarded organizations, from the International Red Cross to Oxfam, are soliciting online donations for the Philippines. This is a noble cause for a country that needs as much assistance as possible. We should all contribute. However, it should not leave the impression that more than 10 million Filipino émigrés cannot or will not take care of their families back home. The UN has called for international aid in an amount of $301 million, just a fraction of what the country will receive in remittances over the next year and beyond.

The story of the Philippines holds an important lesson beyond that country. The poor are more resourceful than we give them credit for. Filipino families made decisions years ago to send a relative or friend abroad, creating a new stream of income. Diversifying their assets was part of their survival strategy. Once disaster strikes, they can move assets where they are needed most.

Long after the world’s spotlight turns away from the Philippines, its residents will find their way. Their use of remittances is replicated all over the world each day. We should give them help but we should also give them credit. Between aircraft carriers and money sent to the Philippines, we should bet on remittances to have the biggest impact.


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This program aired on November 28, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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