Typhoon Haiyan

Hope springs eternal amid Philippines typhoon ruins

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 4:52am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:51am

The government is back at work and markets are laden with fruits, pork, fish and bread. Shredded trees are sprouting new leaves. Above all, the sounds of a city getting back on its feet fill the air: the roar of trucks hauling debris, the scrape of shovel along pavement, the ping of hammer on nails.

One month after Typhoon Haiyan, signs of progress in the shattered Philippine city of Tacloban are mixed with reminders of the scale of the disaster and the challenges ahead: Bodies are still being uncovered from beneath the debris.

Tens of thousands are living amid the ruins of their former lives, surviving under shelters made from scavenged materials and handouts.

City administrator Tecson Lim says a sense of "normality" has returned and has begun talking of a silver lining: "The opportunity to transform our city into a global city, a city that is climate-change resilient and that can perhaps be a model."

Rebuilding will take at least three years, and success will depend on good governance and access to funds.

The Philippines is posting impressive economic growth, but corruption is endemic and the country remains desperately poor, with millions living in slums.

National and regional authorities had ample warnings and time to prepare before the storm hit early on the morning of November 8, but evacuation orders were either ignored or not enforced in a region regularly hit by powerful typhoons. Haiyan plowed through Tacloban and other coastal areas, leaving more than 5,700 dead and 1,700 still missing. About 4 million people were displaced.

But one couple in the town had other things on their minds this weekend.

Earvin Nierva and Riza El Mundo exchanged vows at a church and then posed for photos in a hard hit area of the city.

"This gives hope to people that we can rise up," said Elmundo. The storm, one of the strongest to hit land on record, triggered an international response, led by the United States and UN agencies.

Manila has joined them in paying for food-for-work and cash-for-work emergency employment. The workers clean up the debris that still covers large parts of the city and receive about US$11 a day.

On Friday, the World Bank approved US$500 million in budget support that the Philippine government can use for short-term recovery and reconstruction. It is also providing technical assistance in designing housing, hospitals, schools and public facilities that can withstand super typhoons, strong earthquakes and severe floods.

Rebuilding is a colossal endeavour for a country still recovering from a recent earthquake that hit a nearby island and a Muslim rebel attack that razed houses in clashes in September in the south. Haiyan destroyed or damaged more than a million homes.

At Tacloban's San Jose Central School, Roberto Fabi has been stuck with his family and 25 other displaced residents in an overcrowded room since the typhoon swept away their coastal home and everything in it.

With dwindling relief supplies, his wife, Rowena, worried about their future and seven children, including their three-year-old twins. The girls were traumatised by their near-death escape and always cling to their mother's skirt in a crowd, avoiding the gaze of other people.