PH needs to put recovery in the center of relief efforts in Visayas

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The International Labor Organization (ILO) underpinned the importance of putting livelihood at the center of the recovery efforts as the Philippine government formally enters the rehabilitation phase of the relief operations in eastern Visayas, which was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda in early November.

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Lawrence Jeff Johnson, the director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines, said in a statement that the Philippine government must ensure that the “working poor,” especially those working under vulnerable conditions even before the storm flattened out most of Tacloban City, can “build back better.”

“And that’s an opportunity we must take up, by putting livelihoods at the center of recovery efforts. If we don’t, then vulnerable people are doomed to experience this misery over and over again,” he added.

Many of the Filipinos who have been severely affected by the super typhoon were already engaged in vulnerable working conditions. Without the support from the government, these vulnerable workers would again be thrust into a life of poverty, which might take “generations” before they can get out of it, Johnson said.

“Many of these people were trying to build a life for themselves and their families, trying to get out of poverty. Then the storm came along and took everything away from them,” he added.

Johnson said the Philippine government is aware of the situation “and is working hard to ensure immediate needs are met while setting the ground for longer term reconstruction.”

He related that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Tacloban City went on with their work despite the devastation caused by the typhoon to their office—files strewn around a vast area and computers destroyed. The staff, who experienced personal losses as well, are working in a makeshift office in the building’s parking lot.

One of the projects of the ILO is to provide basic skills training to those affected by natural disasters. Most of these involved construction skills that can serve these vulnerable workers with their future employers.

During their work with the ILO, workers get health insurance, social security and are required to wear protective clothing, Johnson said.

“This is an example of how to build back better, build better infrastructure and people. With support from the ILO, others people have learned skills, set up their own enterprises and businesses, opened day care centers, completed construction projects, and started fish farms,” he added.

This example was done in a village in Iligan City devastated by Tropical Storm Sendong in December 2011.

Two years after the crisis, the livelihoods of the workers there improved and they are no longer in vulnerable working conditions. Johnson said this is the same process they will be using in the recovery efforts in eastern Visayas.

“But the path from relief to recovery is long and requires massive amounts of resources. We need to come together to put the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan on a path that leads to a better life,” the ILO official added.

Although he described Tacloban City as something akin to “apocalyptic scenes” with houses destroyed, businesses reduced to rubble, fields turned to mud and boat smashed to “smithereens,” Johnson is still confident the Philippines will be able to recover from the disaster.

Right now, people are already starting to sell bananas, shoes and even roasted pigs. He added that gas stations, ATM machines, taxis and repair shops have reopened.

“I truly believe the Filipino spirit is here. Tacloban and other affected areas will be rebuilt and livelihoods will be regained,” Johnson said. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON

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