PHILIPPINES
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Benigno Aquino

A year after Typhoon Haiyan Benigno Aquino defends slow pace of rebuilding

President approved Super Typhoon Haiyan reconstruction programme only last week; just a few thousand homes have so far been put up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 November, 2014, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 5:21pm

Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday defended the pace of rebuilding in communities ravaged a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, insisting that reconstruction takes time.

Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to make landfall, slammed into the central Philippines one year ago today, with winds of more than 300km/h and a tsunami-like storm surge six metres high. It killed or left missing more than 7,350 people.

Tens of thousands of survivors are still dangerously exposed to future storms, living in tents, shanty huts or other flimsy shelters, as a prolonged rebuilding phase has only just begun.

In a speech at the hard-hit town of Guiuan a day ahead of Haiyan's anniversary, Aquino said he was determined to ensure the reconstruction programme was carried out correctly, rather than rushing.

"Curse me, criticise me but I believe I must do the right thing," Aquino said.

"I am impatient like everyone else but I have to stress that we can't rebuild haphazardly. We have to build back better... let's get it right the first time and the benefits should be permanent."

Aquino has come under criticism for approving the government's 160 billion peso (HK$27.5 billion) reconstruction master plan only last week.

He previously defended the time taken to finalise it, saying programmes from affected municipalities had to be throughly scrutinised.

The government's plan calls for 205,000 new homes to house roughly one million people in areas away from coastal danger zones, but this has only just started with a few thousand constructed so far.

Frustration is building at the speed of the reconstruction.

"The pace is not very fast. It's snail-paced unfortunately," said Vangie Esperas, a councillor with the local government in Tacloban, the largest city in the region and the one hardest hit by Haiyan.

"Many of our brothers and sisters are still living in tents and some of them are in temporary shelters," she said as she toured a fledgling new town with temporary shelters but no running water or power

Mother-of-six Maria Marites Manilag is among thousands of people living in an officially declared "danger zone" along the coast near Tacloban, but has not heard from any government official whether she will be relocated.

"I get scared every time the winds blow strong and there is news of an approaching typhoon. We live in fear. We want to move to somewhere safe," said Manilag, 47.

Nevertheless, important reconstruction work took place ahead of the formal adoption of the master plan, including rebuilding roads, bridges, hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

In partnership with aid agencies, the government has also helped to roll out vaccination programmes for children.

Aquino cited international aid agencies as saying post-Haiyan recovery efforts were moving faster compared with programmes in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after it was hit by megatsunami waves in 2004.

The president also defended his decision not to attend the one-year anniversary commemorations in Tacloban, where the mayor is a bitter rival of Aquino.

"I have a hunch my critics will say I am taking Tacloban for granted ... but I am not after brownie points," he said, insisting recovery efforts were strong there and he did not have to visit.

The government has acknowledged the region's economy will take many years to recover, largely because the two most important sectors - coconut farming and fisheries - were ruined for millions of people.