RECONSTRUCTION efforts in areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda, particularly the building of shelters for families who remain in evacuation centers, are hampered by the lack of safe relocation sites where new communities can be built.
Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Richard Gordon on Wednesday said the government strategy should be to “build back smarter” by putting up new townsites that are self-sufficient and disaster-resilient.
But Gordon noted that the “build back better” tack is slowing reconstruction efforts because of the lack of available lands where permanent houses can be built for the typhoon survivors.
“The government wants to put up big permanent homes for the victims and that slows them down. The government mindset is to immediately construct these houses but the problem is land. They can expropriate but the next question is where?” Gordon told The Manila Times in an interview.
He made the remark as President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday met the Cabinet clusters involved in the Yolanda reconstruction.
The clusters need to firm up the implementing rules and guidelines (IRR) for Administrative Order No. 44 in order to streamline, coordinate and expedite the processes and requirements for permanent housing for affected families residing in hazard-prone and unsafe areas within the 50-kilometer radius or the “Yolanda Corridor.”
The President called for the meeting a day after thousands of victims demanded his resignation.
The group People Surge Alliance for Yolanda Survivors deplored what they saw as Aquino’s “insensitivity” to their plight.
“Enough is enough—President Aquino must go,” declared Marissa Calbajao, spokesperson for the group, which claims to have about 20,000 members.
While admitting that the government was “slow” in its actions, Gordon said it is understandable considering the extent of the damage from the disaster.
The fastest that these areas can achieve full recovery, according to him, will be between “two to three more years.”
“Certainly, there are problems along the way so that the national and local government should fasttrack their efforts by closely monitoring and coordinating what should be done first,” the former senator said, noting that long-term planning should include the fact that the country is typhoon prone and that disasters are already a part of life.
“Given this, it’s not enough to build back better but smarter and more importantly, higher,” he pointed out as he suggested that shelters be constructed farther from the coasts.
“The government is empowered to put up new townsites and these should be elevated or multi-storey. Also, by building back smarter, the people should be provided with livelihood if not a transportation system that will bring them to and from their places of work such as the coasts in case fishing is their job,” Gordon added.
“The cycle of disaster and poverty must be addressed by offering long-term and smarter solutions,” he pointed out.
No short cuts
Yet, there are no miracle short cuts to the grinding slog of recovery and the reality is many millions of people face years, or even the rest of their lives, enduring typhoon-exacerbated misery.
The government’s rehabilitation master plan envisages moving roughly one million people away from coastal areas that are deemed vulnerable to storm surges by the middle of 2016, when Aquino’s term ends.
However, those plans have already fallen behind schedule, amid problems in finding new land that is safe and suitable for 205,000 new homes, and frustration is building at the speed of the reconstruction program.
“The pace is not very fast. It’s snail paced unfortunately,” Vangie Esperas, a Tacloban councilor, said as she toured a fledgling new town with temporary shelters but no running water or power.
“Many of our brothers and sisters are still living in tents and some of them are in temporary shelters,” Esperas said.
Aquino has also expressed frustration at some of the delays, which is partly due to an infamous government bureaucracy, recently labelling some of the setbacks “absurd”.
The government also acknowledges the region’s economy will take many years to recover, largely because the two most important sectors—coconut farming and fishing industries—were ruined for millions of people.
The average household income in the region was already 25 percent less than the national average before the typhoon, according to government data, and this has significantly worsened.
“There’s no question in my mind the poor are poorer than they were before the typhoon,” Save the Children Philippine country director Ned Olney told AFP.
IBON, an independent think tank, also on Wednesday said the government’s “flawed” recovery program has failed to reach hundreds of thousands of affected families.
In a study, IBON said the survivors endured difficult circumstances in the past year.
Yolanda is said to have affected the livelihood of about 5.6 million to 6 million workers especially in agriculture, fishing, trade and transport sectors. Agricultural income in the affected areas, for instance, was estimated to have dropped by 50 percent to 70 percent after the typhoon.
This, IBON said, is a further blow to Eastern Visayas, which is among the poorest in the country and heavily relies on agriculture.
A survey of 1,094 respondents in six Eastern Visayas provinces showed that 8 out of 10 families earn less than P5,000 on the average every month. Majority of the respondents belong to families with five or more members.
The survey was conducted from September 26 to October 8 and used error margins of +/-3.
Government reports that only some 215,471 families have been given livelihood support through its short-term ‘Cash for Building Livelihood Assets.’
“This could mean that as much as some 780,000 families have either no livelihood support or are relying on scattered efforts of non-government organizations (NGOs) and the private sector,” the research group noted.
The number of evacuees has been estimated at 918,621 families and the number of houses destroyed at 1.2 million. Even if it is assumed that these families were given immediate emergency relief, their needs are vast, IBON said.
“In fact, around 250,000 families or 1.3 million individuals are still living in uncertain or inadequate homes such as in evacuation centers, tent cities, bunkhouses and those who partially rebuilt their homes in the government-declared ‘no-build’ areas. A year later, government data reports that there have only been 364 houses built and only in Tanauan and Tacloban in Leyte,” it said.
The data from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) only shows that rebuilding infrastructure has been very slow, IBON said.
The report showed just 213 classrooms repaired out of a target 19,648; only 27 of a target 132 public markets; 64 kilometers out of a target 431 kilometers of farm-to-market and national roads; and 3 out of a target 34 bridges.
IBON said progress is also limited in the repair or construction of municipal halls, civic centers, flood control structures, and ports.
“The government’s response to the urgent needs of the Yolanda survivors is not only slow and glaringly inadequate. It also fails to address the most important reasons for the vulnerability to calamities of Eastern Visayas communities—among these the widespread rural and urban inequities that cause millions of people to be poor and vulnerable in the first place,” it added.