Typhoon Haiyan

Survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines struggle to rebuild their lives, six months on

Survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan are not just having to rebuild their homes. Six months on, they are still struggling to rebuild their lives, too

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 6:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 6:02am

Six months after the strongest typhoon to hit land killed his mother and tore down much of their house in the eastern Philippines, Sofronio Cervantes wants to return home.

But he faces a battle to scrape together the money to rebuild his life once he gets there.

Like thousands of others, the 38-year-old farmer fled the destruction wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan to Manila.

After a fruitless search for work and surviving on the charity of his wife's relatives, Cervantes says it is now time to go back to his village.

His father is still living there in what remains of their house - a tarpaulin roof strung between two broken walls.

"I want to restart our lives there," he said while visiting the Social Welfare Department, where he managed to get a cash handout of 2,800 pesos (HK$496) to cover the bus fare for his wife, one-year-old son and himself back to his home province of Leyte. "What will I do here? It is better for us to go home."

There are signs of progress since the storm slammed into the Philippines on November 8, leaving more than 7,300 dead or missing and flattening hundreds of thousands of homes.

Many survivors have started rebuilding and debris is being cleaned up and carted away.

But enormous work remains. At the end of April, more than two million people were living without adequate shelter, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Access to water and sanitation also remains a challenge.

"We know that recovery will be a long road," said Marcel Fortier of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"I can tell you that, based on our experience, after three years there would still be a lot of needs that will not be covered."

Recovery efforts have been delayed by government bureaucracy, said Panfilo Lacson, a former senator who heads the government's rehabilitation team.

The rebuilding master plan that includes input from local government officials has yet to be reviewed by the cabinet and presented to President Benigno Aquino for approval, he said.

Lacson also said he doesn't have full authority to make decisions, implement plans and disburse funds, unlike the official put in charge of rebuilding after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

"I am really frustrated," he said. "It is difficult to co-ordinate but not have the implementing authority."

He was relieved, however, that there had been no epidemics or a breakdown in law in order in the disaster zone, and noted that it took eight years for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in the US to fully recover.

It is estimated that reconstruction from the Haiyan disaster will cost 104 billion pesos. So far, US$763 million in foreign aid has been pledged for rebuilding, and the government has received about half of that.

These funds are apart from the millions of dollars in food and other emergency aid that was distributed directly by aid groups shortly after the typhoon. Of the 200,000 homes destroyed or located in areas now deemed unsafe, the government has completed just 130 replacement homes, with nearly 15,000 in the works.

Out of 18,456 classrooms that need to be repaired and rebuilt, 51 have been completed while 165 others are still being constructed.

More than 5,000 people still live in evacuation centres and tent cities, while nearly 20,000 more live in bunkhouses that serve as transitional shelter.

"With the next rainy and typhoon season beginning next month, greater progress on the shelter shortage is urgently required," a UN report said.

"As people are exposed to the elements in many areas, the risk of the situation translating into deteriorating public health or a new humanitarian crisis is heightened."

Farmer Marcelo Silvano, 66, who saw half his coconut farm wiped out in the town of Tolosa, Leyte, said jobs are needed.

"There are so many of us who cannot find work. All I can do is plant root crops and vegetables for home consumption. I am even short of farm tools," he said.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report that 600,000 hectares of farmland and 33 million coconut trees - vital to local livelihoods in one of the country's poorest areas - had been destroyed. About 80,000 families had received seeds, fertiliser and farm tools to help bring in their first harvests since the typhoon, known locally as Yolanda.

Even the damaged environment needs time to recover.

Fisherman Losanto Castillo, 55, said he was grateful to the government for giving him a new fishing boat.

"But how can I have a good catch when the waters are polluted and still filled with garbage from all the objects that got washed out to sea?" he asked.

Finding land to build houses that need to be relocated is emerging as a major issue.

To date, land is available for only a little over a tenth of the total number of homes that need to be built.

Lacson said he has proposed that Aquino issue an order allowing the use of public lands for resettlement and allocation of funds to buy private land.

Some people, including fishermen, oppose moves taking them far from their jobs.

But Lacson said they could not remain, warning: "Where will we find our countrymen if there is another storm?"

Cervantes said he plans to repair their home, farm his father's land and to maybe start a small business to help them get by. But so far, except for the bus fare he got, his efforts asking at government agencies have come to nothing.

"It's like begging," he said. "You are a victim already, but you feel like you become a victim all over again."

In the central city of Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the typhoon, streets are free of debris and the stench of rotting flesh has disappeared. But thousands still live in evacuation centres, worried about their future.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the Philippines Klaus Beck said: "The challenges are indeed great, but they are also surmountable.

"Rebuilding livelihoods is an enormous challenge."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse


Post-typhoon reconstruction is right on track, official in charge Panfilo Lacson says

The typhoon that struck the Philippines on November 8 left 6,293 dead, 1,061 missing and about 4.1 million people displaced, according to figures from the Red Cross.

It caused massive damage to homes, businesses, schools and roads, with power, water and all essential services in an area the size of Portugal cut off.

An international rescue effort has helped millions get back on their feet.

Water and electrical services have been restored in many areas and businesses are reopening. After a brief surge in looting after the storm, police have returned to the streets.

"We are right on track," the head of the government reconstruction efforts, Panfilo Lacson, said.

Lacson and UN officials both noted that despite the widespread destruction, caused mainly by tsunami-like waves, there had been no epidemics, no famine and no long-term collapse of law and order.

But the challenges are still serious. Ned Olney, of Save the Children, said only half of hospitals and clinics in affected areas are back in operation and many are functioning under tents without vital equipment.

Many of the displaced are still huddling under makeshift shelters, leaving them more vulnerable when the typhoon season begins next month.

"If another medium-sized typhoon hits these areas, we'll be knocked back to where we were six months ago," he said.

World Health Organisation representative Julie Hall said other health concerns were now coming to the fore. "Six months after the event, we are seeing the emergence of mental health problems in communities with people coming to terms with the enormity of their loss, whether of loved ones, homes or livelihoods," she said.

Safe and clean facilities were needed for the 70,000 births expected in the next three months, as well as for people with existing diseases like diabetes, cancer and tuberculosis, she said.

"Building back better" has become the slogan of the government - an attempt to make devastated areas less vulnerable to new disasters.

But this means the government must build almost 217,000 new homes for people resettled from coastal areas and riverbanks where they were vulnerable to typhoons and flash floods, Lacson said.

Agence France-Presse