Haiyan survivors still sheltering under hope and canvas
January 11, 2014 00:00 By John Grafilo
Two months on, families are struggling amid a typhoon-scoured wasteland
Pacifico Tanala pounds a steel sheet in front of his makeshift 2-square-metre junk shop, which doubles as his house in the eastern city of Tacloban.
“The sooner I start earning money on my own, the sooner I can start rebuilding my life,” says the 60-year-old father of nine.
Tanala started buying and selling metal scraps in December, more than a month after Typhoon Haiyan turned this once-bustling city of over 200,000 people into a wasteland of debris. Tanala sent his entire family to Manila on a navy ship after the typhoon – the strongest ever to make landfall – swept away his house and motorcycle taxi on November 8.
“I asked my three brothers in Manila to take care of my children and grandchildren while I try to rebuild our life here,” he says.
A friend lent him money to start the junk shop outside the city’s devastated airport, which was the focus for aid supplies and survivors’ evacuations, as well as hosting a makeshift hospital in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon.
Edwin Cinco, 35, a fisherman and father of three young children, is also anxious to get on with his life.
“I am working temporarily as a street cleaner under the government’s cash-for-work programme but I know this scheme will not last long so I hope somebody will give us a motorised boat so I can start fishing again,” he says.
Cinco is hopeful that his family might soon be able to move out of the canvas tent that is their temporary shelter along the shore of Tanauan town, just outside Tacloban.
“My children easily get sick because the tent gets so hot during the day especially at noon and gets very cold at night time and we get wet inside when it rains,” he adds.
Work and shelter have become the top concerns for millions of typhoon victims just over two months after Haiyan struck eastern and central provinces, killing more than 6,000 people. Nearly 6 million people have found it hard or impossible to return to work after disaster, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated.
Haiyan destroyed 1.14 million houses and displaced over 4 million people, the Philippines’ disaster relief agency said.
The government has identified an initial 33,000 families in the worst-hit provinces of Leyte and Eastern Samar who need immediate resettlement.
“They will be relocated farther from the sea and be given titles to their own land,” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman says. She says the Philippine government is also working with the ILO in retraining the most vulnerable survivors to improve their chances of getting employment in sectors less vulnerable to natural disasters than farming and fishing.
For those who do not need to move, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is providing assistance in rebuilding damaged or destroyed homes.
“We are not telling people how to do things, but we are showing them that a building needs bracing, we are showing them that a building needs to be tied down to the ground,” says Albert Spiteri, an IOM shelter expert who led a group of international volunteers in Guiuan town in Samar.
Spiteri stresses however that only concrete roofing could have withstood Haiyan’s 300 kilometre-per-hour winds. The United Nations says that its current funding allows for the distribution of self-recovery shelter kits for 35,000 households, less than 3 per cent of those who need it.
Felino Palafox, president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, says the disaster has given the country a chance to do things better.
“We really have to build back better, safer, smarter and more sustainable,” he says, but laments that the bunkhouses that are temporarily housing people in evacuation centres are “substandard and undersized”.
“They are not fit for human habitation.”
The chief government coordinator for rehabilitation and rebuilding, Panfilo Lacson, has meanwhile ordered the police to investigate allegations of kickbacks in the construction of the temporary shelters.
“It seems that the contractors did not follow the specifications of the public works department,” he says. “We will not tolerate any form of corruption in the rehabilitation process.”
Lacson says a website will be set up set up where projects and programmes and their corresponding cost are posted.
“We want the donors to see where their money goes.”