Tacloban, Philippines – One hundred days have passed since Typhoon Haiyan swept away Girlie Misa’s home, along with her husband and five-year-old son.
Her father has just finished rebuilding her house, one room of plywood and corrugated iron, on the concrete and tiles left when the storm surge receded. She knows it’s dangerous to live in this part of Tacloban, only separated from the sea by a low concrete wall. But Girlie and her two daughters, 15-year-old Bhona-Marie and 12-year-old Berna-Mae, have nowhere else to go.
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The speed of recovery in many typhoon-ravaged areas has been impressive. In the past few weeks businesses in Tacloban, the city at the epicentre of the typhoon’s destruction, have begun re-opening in large numbers. Restaurants, hotels, shops and markets are re-appearing throughout the city. In some areas it is hard to imagine that not long ago, the streets were littered with bodies and debris.
But for the poorest, the challenges of surviving Haiyan continue. Government inaction and alleged corruption, lack of effective funding from international donors and a collective failure to address climate change have left many dangerously exposed. Hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Leyte still live in areas vulnerable to storm surges, and there is no viable plan to protect them. Many lost their livelihoods to the typhoon, and very few know when and where they can move. “Relocation is the only thing we are asking for,” said Girlie.
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Shortly after Haiyan hit, the Aquino administration announced a “no-build zone”, banning construction within 40 metres of the sea shore. This was meant as a safety measure, but in practice the law would mean the mass migration of tens of millions of Filipinos across the country, many whom make their living from the sea.
The government has no plan for where they would go and what they would do. The law has yet to be enforced, and many are sceptical it is even possible to implement it. With land scarce, Girlie and her daughters have been forced to return to the site of their old home, despite their fears another typhoon could destroy it yet again.
The UN estimates that more than 4 million people remain homeless due to Haiyan, with more than 100,000 still in evacuation centres. Conditions are often poor, with overcrowding, limited sanitation and reports of crime and abuse. Many makeshift evacuation centres, such as schools and universities, are now pushing out the occupants.
A few families have already transferred to newly erected bunkhouses, the government’s temporary solution to the homelessness crisis. But according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the bunkhouses have been poorly built, rendering them unsafe. Some have been constructed on private land only available until June. Even if all the bunkhouses were completed immediately and met minimum standards, the IOM states there would not be enough for all those who need them.
The mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez, says the solution is ultimately a new permanent housing development north of the city. But that area is also problematic – too small to fit all the displaced people, far from work opportunities and prone to flooding. It is unknown when these homes would be ready, as the land is still being cleared and construction is yet to begin. The result is that those like Girlie who live in the “no build zone” consider themselves “temporary permanent” settlers, likely to remain in housing limbo indefinitely.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the misuse of funds meant for disaster management. Mayor Romualdez and President Aquino, members of the two most powerful opposing political families in the country, have traded accusations of ineptitude and inaction. Salvador Estudillo, who headed Tacloban’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office during and after Haiyan, recently resigned. He cited pressure from the mayor to sign documents on the spending of Tacloban’s “Calamity Fund”, a percentage of the city’s budget set aside to cover disaster preparation and relief, despite not knowing where the money had gone. Romualdez has denied wrongdoing, arguing that the 2013 Calamity Fund was correctly accounted for.
Evidence of abuse of power is not hard to find. Local city and provincial officials freely admit buying votes, describing it as a necessity of Filipino politics. In January, city councillors received large personal checks from the Philippine Councillors’ League, while their constituents protested outside about the lack of promised financial support from the government.
Tacloban’s local government is facing an especially difficult 2014. Its budget has been cut almost by half as post-typhoon tax revenues have fallen drastically. Spending on vital services including disaster recovery and preparedness have been reduced, with Mayor Romualdez calling for increased support from the national government.
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And humanitarian organisations are facing a massive gap in funding, according to the UN Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA, along with UN and international NGO agencies, developed a Typhoon Haiyan Strategic Response Plan last year, requiring $788m to cover the essential needs of the affected communities. But so far less than 50 percent has been received, with early recovery and livelihood projects only 18.5 percent funded. Because donors choose where their money is spent rather than the coordinating body, more than $306m of the total $661m donated after Haiyan has been directed to projects outside the Response Plan.
Funding running out
One of the most successful projects run by international organisations has been “cash-for-work”, in which Haiyan survivors are paid to clean up typhoon debris. But the clean-up is nearly complete and funding has almost run out. Now, many families are worried they won’t be able to feed themselves. Irvin Tanyala, chairman of the Magallanes community where Girlie lives, said that without jobs, community members will be forced into crime.
Girlie used her husband’s last pay check to buy items that Berna-Mae helps sell from their one window. With that small income and relief food packages they have been able to survive, but Girlie isn’t sure how she’ll feed her family once relief distribution stops in March. She tries to earn extra money at a newly re-opened appliance store, but business is slow and she only gets paid on commission. She says the announcement by USAID, Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble to facilitate micro-financing loans doesn’t interest her as she wouldn’t be able to pay off the debt.
Girlie says it’s hard for her and her daughters to stay in the area, her husband died just metres away trying to save their son. Her husband’s body was located three weeks later but her son’s has never been found. Girlie tries to hold back tears, saying she must be strong for the sake of her two daughters, but admits she feels weak inside. She just hopes she is able to help them finish school and make a better life for themselves.