Rebuilding Lives & Homes: Typhoon Relief in the Philippines

At Nutiva, we believe that a bright future is possible and worth fighting for, even in the most challenging times. The extreme typhoons that hit the Philippines in late 2020 exposed both the reality of our climate crisis and the necessity of climate justice for the planet and its people. This story of relief and recovery exemplifies why and how we strive to care for the people and the ecosystems that feed the world.

2020 was a grueling year on a global scale. On top of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also witnessed the real-time ramifications of the climate crisis. One of the ways that took shape was a series of exceptionally intense typhoons which impacted several countries in Southeast Asia and in particular, the Philippines.

Despite being thousands of miles away from our headquarters in California, this country is close to home for Nutiva given our longstanding and deep-rooted relationships with its coconut farmers and suppliers. All of our organic coconut products—from our Virgin Coconut Oil to our Coconut Manna—are sourced from the Philippines.

As an archipelago of islands surrounded by the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the nation is no stranger to tropical storms. However, the successive super typhoons that hit the Philippines in November of 2020 far exceeded what its communities were prepared for and the effect was catastrophic. 


Typhoon Goni (known locally as Typhoon Rolly), which hit the islands on November 1 with winds of up to 213 km/h, became one of the strongest landfalling tropical cyclones on record. Typhoon Vamco (known locally as Typhoon Ulysses) made landfall on November 11 just as victims were still reeling from the crisis caused by Typhoon Goni days before. These two super typhoons claimed the lives of at least 100 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.

The intensification of tropical storms in recent years has been directly linked to the progression of climate change and according to a report published in 2019 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, “The Philippines is the country most at risk from the climate crisis.” Since this threat is disproportionate to the scale at which the Philippines contributes to climate change, this is a prime example of climate injustice. Even more so since smallholder farmers tend to be the most vulnerable to ecological devastation despite being the primary stewards and caretakers of the land and the hands that feed the world.


Immediate Response: Relief & Clean-up

These typhoons destroyed homes, farms and infrastructure, leaving many smallholder farming communities at risk. As long-standing partners with these communities, Nutiva was able to respond quickly by sponsoring clean-up efforts and donating resources to rebuild homes and livelihoods.

In the first wave of disaster response, Nutiva partnered with the Lao Foundation and Tzu Chi Foundation to support the rapid mobilization of volunteers who were able to survey areas in need as early as the day after the typhoons hit. From Bicol to Batangas, our partner organizations activated a cash-for-work program which rewarded those who participated in community clean-up work with up to ~Php 1,000 (about $20 USD) per day. Through the joint efforts of these two foundations, nearly 45,000 families received cash assistance for basic necessities to help get them back on their feet.

Frontline response efforts also included the preparation and donation of relief packs to communities who were most severely affected by the typhoons. The relief packs contained essential goods such as rice, canned goods, water, home cleaning products, sanitary products like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as simple medical supplies for minor wounds. The Tzu Chi Foundation also distributed fresh, hot meals at evacuation centers to community members displaced from their homes.

Recovering & Rebuilding: The Bueno Family Story

After the first phase of immediate relief was stabilized, the next phase of recovery focused on rebuilding the lives of the typhoon victims. After the storms, families returned to their villages to find all of their belongings destroyed and their homes in ruins. Many were evacuated with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, so they returned home empty-handed and facing the daunting task of making a life for themselves anew.

To this end, Nutiva partnered with the Primex Isle de Coco Foundation to support the farming communities whose homes and livelihoods were damaged by the storms. Our aim was to address one of their most core needs: shelter. We supplied essential building materials and supplies, which allowed the typhoon victims to reclaim their lives by rebuilding their homes. With a safe and secure home to return to, they could then move forward with their work, take care of their families and their daily needs.

Photos taken by Primex Isle de Coco Foundation in the Bicol Region of the Philippines.

The following story of the Bueno family, as shared with us by our partners on the ground, illustrates the devastating personal impact of planetary disasters:

Alex and Miriam Bueno were forewarned about the typhoons that were coming. They knew their house wasn’t built strong enough to withstand a typhoon surge so they prepared themselves. They were thinking of their three children, Princess Almera who is sixteen, Alex Junior who is twelve, and Therese who is only three years old.

Alex and Miriam went to the farm in the mountains to harvest food and coconuts so that they would have food to bring with them in case they needed to evacuate to their community’s rescue center. They were prepared, but they were hoping against hope that their house would remain standing.

Typhoon Goni was the second of three successive typhoons that ravaged the province of Albay, and this was the typhoon that shattered all the hope of the Bueno family. Miriam described the experience inside their home as that of an earthquake. She, her children and her husband huddled together in their small home as the walls of their house shook against the wind. Their furniture and all their belongings shook along with the walls, and they could not help but flee their home for the safety of the rescue center.

The rescue center was filled with dozens of families who, like Alex and Miriam, have small children with them. Children cried in fear as the typhoon winds howled outside and made the roof creak against the strain. Miriam stared at her crying children and shed tears herself. She felt powerless, and she worried about the state of their home and what they would find when they finally returned. Alex for his part, sheltered his family under the mattress that the rescuers had given them. He feared that the roof would collapse under the pressure of the wind so he put up a barrier against falling debris. They stayed under the safety of the mattress the whole night.

The next morning the clouds had cleared slightly so Alex ventured to their home. Soon after, Miriam followed, and what she saw left her sobbing. The roof on their home was gone. The walls had been blown away, and all that was left were pieces of wood and some items of clothing drenched in rain. Miriam’s hope slowly ebbed away. She knew her husband could rebuild their home because he is a skilled carpenter, but where would they find all their building materials?

Alex scoured their community for anything he could use. He found pieces of wood, metal sheets and tarpaulin but these were all damaged. The metal sheets had holes, and the tarpaulin was worn in places. He was determined to make do with what they had so he and Miriam put together a makeshift shelter. They knew the shelter wasn’t safe to house their children so they hoped they would get some help rebuilding their home. But with relatives and neighbors all victims of the typhoon, they didn’t know who to approach nor where to begin. Then came the day they received a message from the Primex Foundation that Nutiva will be donating building materials for their home.

That message alone gave Alex, Miriam, and their three children so much hope. After much hopelessness, they felt a surge of joy for the lifeline they were being given. They felt the same joy when they received the delivery of the lumber and roofing sheets. Their smiles could be felt through the face masks they were wearing. More importantly, they felt grateful and this gratitude encouraged them to extend help to others as well. Alex’s carpentry skills are invaluable so he, along with neighbors and volunteers, took on the challenge of rebuilding other people’s homes in the community. His family was given so much hope and he wanted to pass on that same hope to others.

At Nutiva, we believe that a bright future for all is rooted in healthy food. For over 20 years it's inspired us to offer the planet's best organic plant-based foods while helping the people and ecosystems that create it to flourish. This belief inspires our continued commitment to dedicating our resources to combat climate change, advance sustainable agriculture and grow healthy communities. Learn more about how we’re building a bright future locally and globally.


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