TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte: Two years after a super typhoon devastated the Visayas and parts of Palawan and sounded a global alarm on climate change, a massive rebuilding program has had big successes but at least one million survivors are still without safe homes.
In Tacloban City, a major coastal city that was nearly completely destroyed and where thousands died, restaurants and shops are bustling again — showcasing the best of a remarkable resurrection for many communities.
But on the city’s outskirts and elsewhere, many people endure deep poverty as they live in flimsy new homes that make them extremely vulnerable to future storms that will inevitably whip in off the Pacific Ocean.
More than 7,350 people were killed or left missing after Super Typhoon Yolanda
(international name: Haiyan) struck the Philippines on November 8, 2013, with the strongest winds ever recorded on land.
Tsunami-like storm surges higher than trees exacerbated the disaster, demolishing communities that were already among the nation’s poorest.
“I cry almost every night. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, how are we going to survive?” said Esliba Bascal, 59, who lost her son and home in the disaster and now lives in a makeshift dwelling just outside Tacloban.
Like many others, Bascal’s hopes for a new government-provided house in a safe place have not come true.
She lives with her husband, widowed daughter-in-law and six grandchildren in a brick-and-tin structure built on the same site as their previous home that was wiped out by the storm surges.
“We were poor, but now we’re poorer. Life is hard but I have to be strong for my grandchildren,” said Bascal, who earns about 20 pesos a day selling biscuits, chips, soap and other daily goods from her home.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s government launched a 150-billion-peso reconstruction program for the disaster zones, which the United Nations has praised for its efficiency in some key sectors.
About 60 percent of that money have been spent, much of it on roads, bridges and schools, according to Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who is in charge of the recovery program.
Money has also been used for start-up capital for survivors to start small businesses, as well as farm and fishing supplies.
A resilient private sector and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the international community has also been extremely important.
The Red Cross, for example, said it had given cash assistance to more than 90,000 families and rebuilt or repaired 65,000 homes.
Yet, the government has come under fire for not doing enough to help the more than one million survivors it identified as living in coastal areas who were vulnerable to future storms and needed to be resettled.
Out of the 205,128 families living in the path of future storms, just 928 have been transferred to permanent shelters, according to the government.
The government calculates an average of five people per family.
Many of the others who are yet to receive new homes are simply living in repaired or rebuilt homes, like Bascal.
The government is aiming to relocate nearly 100,000 families by next year, with the project to be completed by 2017, Chito Cruz, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, told reporters this week.
Cruz said one of the reasons it was taking so long to relocate people was that buying safe new land from private title holders was extremely difficult.
Locals also complain that proposed resettlement areas are in isolated locations well away from the coast.
The coastal areas are the main hubs of the regional economy, and people cannot afford to travel long distances.
“We have accomplished much over the last two years, but there is still a lot that must be done,” Balisacan said in a briefing on the recovery program this week.
But he also emphasized Yolanda had turned cities and towns into “wastelands,” and that even the US government struggled after Hurricane Katrina caused massive damage in 2005.
International recognitions of government’s efforts to help Yolanda survivors is the best way to counter critics, a report of the state-run Philippine News Agency said.
The report quoted data from the National Housing Authority (NHA) that as of October 30, about 17,641 housing units have been completed while about 42,566 are under construction.
NHA General Manager Sinforoso Pagunsan is optimistic of hitting their target this year even with only two months left for the year.
“We are confident that we will meet the 21,000 completions as soon as we get the additional money we need,” he said at the weekly Kapihan ng Media ng Bayan at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) office in Quezon City.
The government said about 205,000 houses need to be constructed for families living in “high-risk zones” in 14 Yolanda-affected provinces.
Bulk of these families are in Region 6 (Eastern Visayas) at about 117,203 followed by 56,140 in Region 8 (Western Visayas); 22,423 in Region 7 (Central Visayas); 8,760 in Region 4-B (Calabarzon); 500 in Caraga; and 102 in Region 5 (Bicol).
The 205,000 houses need about P61.25 billion funding. Nearly P27 billion has been released for about 92,544 houses.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, during the same briefing, said the Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts has about P10.2 billion budget for the last quarter of the year and this will be used to fund not only houses but also to finance livelihood programs and water and electricity facilities.
He added that the proposed 2016 national budget has about P25.601 billion allocated for the construction of about 87,405 housing units.
About P18.9 billion was also proposed to be given to other agencies that are helping in the typhoon-focused programs and these include the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and the National Electrification Administration (NEA).
This leaves about 112,574 houses to be funded by the next administrations.
The government continues to receive flak from the allegedly slow implementation of programs for victims of one of the world’s strongest typhoons, which hit the country in November 2013.
Abad, however, said efforts to help the survivors continue but admitted that problems occur because of several issues such as the lack of available land where the permanent shelters would be constructed.
NHA has ensured that the location can accommodate not only houses but also water and power utilities as well as school buildings, tricycle terminals, police outposts, materials recovery facility (MRF), a health center and a covered basketball court that doubles as multi-purpose center.
Other issues being faced by the Yolanda housing projects include concerns on titling properties, issuances of permits and clearances and bad weather.
Pagunsan said time frame for the bidding up to the completion of the houses is one-and-a-half-year and most of the projects meet the deadline.
He assured the public that the houses, which each have a minimum lot size of 40 square meters and are loftable row-house type, can withstand strong winds up to 250 kilometer per hour.
Meanwhile, Yolanda has become a rallying point in the global campaign to contain global warming, with visits to the disaster zones this year by leaders such as Pope Francis and French President Francois Hollande.
Scientists have warned storms such as Yolanda, which generated record winds of 315 kilometers (196 miles) an hour at landfall, could become the new normal as global warming worsens.
While in the disaster zones, the Pope and Hollande issued similar warnings as they urged world leaders to take decisive action at a crucial summit in Paris starting on November 30.
The summit is aiming to seal a pact aimed at keeping global temperature rises to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels.
AFP and PNA