Haiyan survivors still seeking safe shelter

Recovery inches forward six months after deadly super typhoon slammed central Philippines.

Tacloban City, Philippines – When typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8, 2013, it packed winds  near 315km per hour . Waves as high as 7.5 metres came crashing through the shores of Tacloban City, and swept away thousands of homes including the shack Lisa Rosales shared with her family. They made it out alive, swimming through thick black water and debris. Four of their next-door neighbours drowned. For the next three days, they survived on porridge made of spoiled rice collected from the storm’s wreckage.   

Six months after the disaster, which killed over 6,000 people and displaced over four million, the Rosales family is barely surviving.

Like 10,000 other families across the city, they are still waiting to be resettled. In the meantime, they have put together plywood, scrap GI sheets and slabs of driftwood to rebuild their home. Unsure of when government help would arrive, many in their district also started rebuilding on land declared unsafe ahead of typhoon season, which begins in a few weeks.

Other families have been transferred to government bunkhouses and tent communities. But they, too, have to endure overcrowding and inadequate sanitation. And at the height of summer, these shelters turn into boiler rooms, forcing families, including children, to stay outside because of the sweltering heat and humidity.        

Even as the Philippine government underlines the progress made following Haiyan, survivors, government officials and aid organisations admit, full recovery is still years away. Thousands are still homeless and without work.  

“Most of the humanitarian workers here have been surprised about how quickly we have moved from humanitarian response to recovery,” Andrew Martin, a United Nations humanitarian official, told Al Jazeera. Compared to other disasters like the 2004 tsunami that hit Banda Aceh in Indonesia, responses to Haiyan have been quicker, he said.

There is, however, a segment of the population that has been “left behind”, Martin said. With only about half of the UN recovery effort receiving funding, aid could slow down, he added.

The Philippine government’s recovery czar, Panfilo Lacson, a former senator,  insists rehabilitation efforts are “on track,” including the ongoing construction of 14,873 housing units in areas affected by Haiyan. However, only 130 houses have been completed by private donors and turned over to survivors. Overall, an estimated 200,000 houses were destroyed by the storm.   

The government also said that since the typhoon, farmers made their first harvest of crops, while fishermen increased their catch with public aid. Social services have also distributed 4.2 million food packs. According to estimates,  rehabilitation could cost at least $2.4bn .  

In Tacloban, Jenny Lyn Manibay, the mayor’s chief of staff, told Al Jazeera that most businesses in the city have been relaunched. In downtown Tacloban, new garment and cellphone shops have opened, as well as fast-food chains.   

‘We don’t want to rely on handouts’

Where will we go, if we don't build our own house?

- Jocelyn Mamita, survivor

But that’s hardly any comfort to Encarnacion David, 68, whose entire family still lives in an evacuation centre near the city hall. She said the government only occasionally distributes food. In recent days, they received a pack of noodles that is already past its expiration date.

Since the typhoon, she resumed running a food stall with a $350 donation from the Taiwan-based aid group Tzu Chi.

“As much as possible, we really don’t want to rely on government handouts,” David told Al Jazeera. “We want to stand on our own.” She worries that her family will be resettled in an area of Tacloban, far from where she is currently earning a living.

In Anibong, another district of Tacloban, Jocelyn Mamita, a 46-year-old mother of five lives in a hut that’s also within the “danger zone”, where construction is supposed to be prohibited. But it’s hard to blame Mamita and other local residents for trying to build themselves shelters. 

“Where will we go if we don’t build our own house?” Mamita told Al Jazeera. “If the next storm surge comes, we will just have to evacuate.” Nearby, the shipwrecked cargo vessel M/V Eva Jocelyn remains abandoned, a reminder of the storm’s ferocity. The ship’s long shadow provides temporary shelter to Mamita and other residents trying to escape the summer heat.   

Farther inland in Tacloban, a US-based humanitarian group  All Hands Volunteers  are building hundreds of houses for evacuees. Volunteers from the US and Europe, including engineers and architects like Laurence Wood of Ireland, have designed houses that are able to withstand strong winds.  

Moving forward

About 18km south of Tacloban is the  coastal town of Tanauan , where 1,380 residents were killed during the typhoon. Pel Tecson, a former executive of a US company and now the town’s mayor, said that while the devastation was immense, it also provided the chance to rebuild his hometown.

To help the 1,200 families who lost their homes, the town acquired three parcels of land for relocation. Construction of the two-storey concrete houses was funded by the national government and several private donors. Survivors provide manpower for the construction. They’re each required to log 500 hours of work before ownership titles are transferred to them.

Of the hundreds of housing units visited by Al Jazeera, at least 40 units have been officially turned over to survivors. Maria Abalos, 69, and her family including a three-month-old grandchild, were among the first to own a new house.

“We are moving forward,” Tecson told Al Jazeera, as he showed his town’s master plan, which he said is focused on shelter, livelihood and infrastructure.

For the first time, Tanauan is also getting a new hospital and a mall. The town square, which was turned into a mass grave with over 600 bodies buried, is now being turned into a memorial with construction expected to be completed by Haiyan’s first anniversary in November.

It took me months to pay off that motorbike, and Haiyan just took it like that.

- Joselito Ibanez, survivor

Tanauan also provided seeds for inter-cropping to coconut farmers who lost their livelihood. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told Al Jazeera that Haiyan knocked down an estimated  33 million coconut trees . It takes seven to 10 years for a coconut tree to grow and bear fruit. Now the felled tree trunks are used as construction materials for houses.

Dozens of fishermen, like 40-year-old Rommel Mansalay, also received new boats from private donors, although that only accounts for a small part of the 25,000 fishing boats lost to Haiyan across the central Philippines.

The UN’s Andrew Martin said at least 17,000 fishermen are still without boats.  One fishing boat would cost at least $680 , Oliver Amoroso, a television executive spearheading a fundraising effort to help fishermen, told Al Jazeera.

Joselito Ibanez, 48, is Mansalay’s neighbour in the village of San Roque. He works as a driver and provides for his wife, Victoria and their six children. Aside from their house, Ibanez also lost his motorbike taxi to Haiyan. He now rents a friend’s motorbike to earn a living, he also pays money to send one of his children to college.        

“It took me months to pay off that motorbike and Haiyan just took it like that,” Ibanez said, as he sat in his abandoned hut next to the beach in Tanauan. Still, he is thankful that his family is alive.  

Tecson, the mayor, said his town was in despair in the aftermath of the storm.   

“We were all victims of Haiyan,” he said. “There was so much confusion. But I had to stand up to provide direction and hope to our people. Now we are making progress, and we are counting these as small victories.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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