It is becoming more than a little worrisome to hear the complaints and see the conditions in the two principal provinces that Yolanda struck – Leyte and Samar. It seems that no real progress has been made in shelter and livelihood. If we are worried about unemployment and poverty as the headlines have been telling us lately, here is the place to start a massive program to provide both and at least dent those statistics of underdevelopment a bit. I leave out medical services though they are not all that abundant but the foreign and local non-government organizations are present and at work delivering them, whether in makeshift hospitals like tents or shipping containers. Hospitals in place are getting some attention too from the Department of Health.
What is the real crying need is for the population to be put to work, whether building their own shelters or putting up their own businesses or working for a wage. It has to be right now.
It is ironic that huge amounts have been received and raised for Yolanda victims and yet they have yet to feel the substantial and permanent effects of the use of these funds. The shoddy government bunkhouses attempted as temporary shelter have been a total failure both as shelter and as a managed enterprise. Specifications that resulted in dehumanizing shelter conditions as well as a lack of control and management of the private to alleviate the plight of victims.
The Rehabilitation Czar who has not been given adequate powers bewails that assessments on which rehabilitation will be based are taking forever to be completed. If this is a war, we have already lost because we have not gotten off the ground. On second thought, it is a war and we are not coming up with a suitable strategy and our tactics are unproductive. We are late which in effect is we are headed for defeat, unless we reverse our course.
Let us talk about shelter. If there are victims whose homes are in the proper places (not in hazardous areas), they should be helped to rebuild them at once. Let us not think of designing something at this point, just provide the materials and the money to build. The people concerned can do the rest, build themselves a home they are willing to live in. It does not take much, they don’t need a design to follow, they know how to go about it.
Yes, there is the social engineering aspect that promotes typhoon-proof shelters. It would be a great step forward to have these typhoon-proof structures in place to deal with future typhoons. But while the design and its mechanics are being put together, the shelterless victims of the present cannot be made to wait. They have to have shelter now whether typhoon proof or not. Without shelter, there is no repose, no tranquility, no rootedness that creates a sense of community. People who are left to the elements or to travesties for shelters cannot think outside of themselves, cannot contribute to community efforts for betterment. They will be thinking of themselves only and their problems will fester enough to create a resentment against authority that does not help, authority that seems indifferent, clueless, incompetent. That is the worst danger of leaving people in need twisting in the wind. Psychic damage is the result.
Livelihood is an equal foremost need. The population should be put to work whether cleaning the environment, building roads, rehabilitating public buildings like schoolhouses, city halls, community centers, public facilities. For example, it should have been the locals and not contractors with their apparent profit from misery mentality that should have been given the job of building shelters. In the US during the Great Depression, government became the biggest employer of the unemployed. It hired all kinds of people with and without skills. Those who did not have them were apprenticed so they learned. Even artists and writers who in times of want are the biggest losers for their audience who are also in want have no time to appreciate art or to read, were put to work. Until today, many public buildings in small towns in the US, towns like those of Leyte and Samar, have public buildings dating from that time complete with murals and other decorations by artists who were employed. Writers also from that time have left a body of work whether in research or putting down in writing customs, traditions, rituals of small localities that nobody bothered to do. They are now a precious legacy from the Depression Era.
Leyte and Samar are provinces with a culture. They have a musical legacy of folksongs traditions, festivals, dances. Many artists come from there. Why can’t there be a compilation of their folksongs, customs, traditions, religious rituals, dances that could be a gift for the future? Hire teachers, writers, musicians, social observers and put them to work in this field. Hire the rest to do what they can to mitigate the effects of the destruction.
It will not be enough, of course, until the government leads the way in either putting up industries or a massive support for agriculture in the area. Leyte and Samar cannot be left to do it themselves. No one is in a position to help in a major way except government. Government can encourage big business, can open new economic frontiers in these provinces. But meanwhile it has to take emergency employment measures and see to it that shelterlessness is mitigated. It has been 100 days, where are the planners, the visionaries, the can-do people in government that should deliver now? This is not the time to conserve money, it is time to spend it wisely and well, and spend it now for the absolute necessities – shelter and livelihood.