Tacloban, Philippines – Thousands of families still live in evacuation sites in the central Philippines one year after super typhoon Haiyan crashed into the islands with devastating force.
At least 6,300 people were killed, with many more missing and unaccounted for. The typhoon was the strongest in history to hit land, catching many by surprise in the Southeast Asian country used to being battered by more than 20 storms a year. Surging waves wiped out entire coastal communities, and millions were left homeless.
As the Philippines marks the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, many are still struggling to rebuild and to gather up the pieces of their shattered lives. At the San Jose campsite, children walk barefoot on muddy roads, and families sleep in tents that are beginning to fray at the seams. When it rains, water seeps into the ground. There are many nights when survivors have to sleep sitting down, the children cheek to jowl under their arms.
In the city proper, there remains little trace of the tragedy – shops and restaurants are bustling, and homes have been repainted and rebuilt. But beyond the city limits, in areas where poverty sidelined many even before the typhoon, physical scars remain. In the village of Baybay, what used to be beautiful fishing homes remain as shattered structures. Boats lie idle – many because they cannot summon the will to go back to the sea that gave them life, but also reclaimed it with devastating fury. And underneath the calm surface, tonnes of debris have remained and pose potential hazards.
Mornings offer a quiet reprieve from the struggles, but as the sun peaks at noon, the heat becomes unbearable, as the suffocating smell of latrines mix with the salty sea air. While many are about to lose hope of ever resuming their regular lives, there are those who have decided to pick themselves up rather than wait for government aid that has taken long to arrive.
One of them is Virginia Pedrera who has successfully replanted a small plot of farmland with beans and okra, which she sells at the local market for much needed money. The income has now helped her rebuild her small home and inspire her neighbours. Through the help of the aid group Catholic Relief Services, she bought seeds and farm implements, and now harvests vegetables every two months, earning thousands of pesos.
“When the winds came, our home was blown away. We huddled under the debris and used the tin roofing for protection,” the mother of five said. “We didn’t want to stay in the evacuation centre because it was crowded.”
She said waiting for aid was frustrating, especially in remote interior communities as relief and rehabilitation efforts focused on rebuilding infrastructure.
“We couldn’t rely on anyone but ourselves,” she said.