Rebuilding after Typhoon Haiyan: 'Every time there is a storm I get scared'

Photo: A girl makes her way home
after fetching water at a coastal
village in Tacloban, Leyte province.
Photograph: Ezra Acayan/NurPhoto

Three years after the typhoon destroyed more than a million homes and killed 6,000 people, the Philippines has fallen far short on house-building pledge.

When Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the city of Tacloban in the central Philippines almost three years ago, Arsenio was one of the lucky ones – he survived by swimming a kilometre to safety. “Every time there is a storm, I get scared, even after three years,” he said. “I don’t want to go through the same thing again.”

And yet, there is a good chance he will. The archipelago nation is regularly rocked by storms that are predicted to get stronger and more frequent due to climate change. And the 67-year-old shopkeeper is still living in the same place: the Seawall barangay (neighbourhood), which is strung along the coast of Tacloban. “I am pissed off,” said Arsenio, who declined to give his last name. “I have not been offered any sort of relocation by the government, even in a transitional centre.”

Across the Philippines' second-largest city and the province's islands, inhabitants try to buy materials for basic housing, reports Mark Tran

After Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, and one that destroyed more than a million homes and killed more than 6,000 people – the government promised to “build back better”. The strategy included relocating people away from coastal areas that are almost sure to be hit again.

So far, the plan has been a failure, at least in terms of numbers. In the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the Philippines, the government of then president Bignino Aquino III pledged to build 205,000 homes to accommodate about one million people living in coastal danger zones.

Last week, vice-president Leni Robredo, newly installed as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council – an umbrella organisation that oversees various government housing agencies – admitted that only about 1% of the target had been achieved.

“The report reaching us is that only 25,000 were completed,” she said at a press conference. “From the 25,000 that were completed, 2,500 were occupied.”

As the third anniversary of the Haiyan disaster approaches on 8 November, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, including tens of thousands in Tacloban, continue to live in areas which the government has designated as “no dwelling zones”.

They include residents of Seawall who, like Arsenio, rebuilt their homes after the storm. Their homes are shacks made from what could be found in the wreckage or was donated by charities – plywood, sacking and corrugated iron. Some jut out into the sea, supported on stilts, and are connected to the land by single wooden boards.

Joyce Sierra, advocacy officer at Social Watch Philippines, said many survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – had to rebuild their lives with little or no assistance, which pushed them deeper into poverty. “They are even poorer and even more vulnerable now, even three years after Yolanda,” she said.

Robredo blamed the lack of progress on “red tape”, particularly the processing of documents and land titles for sites where homes were to be built. She has said she will coordinate with the Commission on Audit and the National Economic Development Agency (COA) to see if the bureaucracy can be reduced.

The slow grind is frustrating for people like Glenda Nibasa, a housewife living in Tacloban’s flood-prone Picas community. As she waits for the government to provide her with a proper home, she’s living in a temporary shelter provided by the NGO World Vision.

“If the government wants to help us, why are there so many processes? Why won’t they just help us?” Nibasa asked.

But constructing new homes is not the end of the problem. Even survivors who are offered the chance to relocate sometimes decide against it, because the inland safe zones are far from their where they work – usually in the fishing industry. They also fear the new homes are a step down in terms of quality of life.

“We declined because the area is far from our livelihood and we heard the water was not good,” said Marissa Trebajo, who sells fish at the Seawall market to support her four children.

Ildebrando Bernadas, head of the Tacloban city government’s disaster risk reduction and management office, acknowledged the problem with the water supply and said it was because no national agency had been assigned to the problem. Plans are now being drawn up to provide a water supply to Tacloban’s relocation “township” in the north of the city, he said.

Bernadas also said Haiyan survivors’ concerns about their livelihoods were being addressed, and employment and training were being provided – although it could not be guaranteed that those being relocated, mostly fishermen, would be able to continue with the same job.

“Actually, those who are now resettled permanently, that [had previously been] their sentiment: ‘We don’t want to move because our lives here – we are fishermen.’ But now they are there, they feel happy about it,” he said.

By David Doyle for Irin, part of the Guardian development network.

Source: The Guardian.

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