After a year of positive action, there is still much to be done in Tacloban

Published: 10 November 2014 12:29 CET

By Nichola Jones, IFRC

A dozen singing porters launched into a choreographed routine to welcome passengers at Tacloban airport’s new arrivals hall when I touched down on Tuesday.  Almost a year ago, it didn’t even have a roof. It’s obvious things have changed dramatically since I was last in the city that bore the brunt of Super Typhoon Haiyan’s brutal force.

We landed at dusk, but the newly restored power supply and street lights showed a place almost unrecognizable. This time last year, the 315k/mp winds had flipped buses on to buildings and smashed scooters to smithereens. Today, throngs of jeepneys, cars and motorbikes snake along the roads – a sure sign that life in the shattered city has regained a sense of normality as children return from school while their parents clock off work.  

The area around the airport was a wasteland in Haiyan’s aftermath, choked with debris. Dozens of new shops, cafes and restaurants line the roads now. The city’s flagship mall, Robinsons, which was ruined last year is packed with shoppers, and banners hang in the streets to announce the reopening of famous fast food chains. The place is buzzing.

Kick-starting pre-typhoon livelihoods and giving survivors the opportunity to set up new businesses has been a priority for the Philippine Red Cross and its partners through its multi-million dollar recovery programme.  

Almost 30,000 households across the affected islands have so far received $220 dollars each to do just that – including several thousand across municipalities in the Tacloban area. The Mayor of Tacloban, Alfred S. Romualdez, said in a recent press conference in Manila that more than 50 per cent of businesses in the city are running again - signalling the city’s intention to regain its status as one of the Philippines’ major hubs of commerce.  

Without doubt, the desperation that cloaked Tacloban last year has lifted and been replaced with optimism. This week though, is a time of contemplation. From dance displays and family picnics, to candlelit processions and remembrance Masses, there are a host of ways people are marking the first anniversary. Volunteers of the Philippine Red Cross are taking part in a sports day. Many of the volunteers are survivors of the storm and have first-hand experience of Haiyan’s deadly impact. Seventeen of them spent a terrifying few hours clinging to the roof of the Red Cross office as the typhoon lashed Tacloban. The sports day is a much-needed chance to relax and reflect after a relentless year working in some of the worst-hit communities.

Amid international debate about progress and the dissection of the recovery effort, references are made to ‘one-year-on’ as if it is a long time. And of course, much has been achieved by the Red Cross and other NGOs who have been on the ground over the last 12 months. But being back here, revisiting some of the communities I went to last autumn and talking to survivors, it is painfully clear that a year is no time at all – particularly for those whose parents, husbands, wives, children, siblings, friends and neighbours were killed on 8 November 2013.

I was in Barangay 68 on Wednesday, a coastal community in Anibong, Tacloban. The area became a symbol of the disaster after three giant tankers were tossed on top of hundreds of homes by the five-metre tidal surge.  

Sitting under the shadow of the rusting purple ship that remains among the remnants of the village, I met Susan Agustin. Her house was obliterated and she watched as her neighbourhood was razed to the ground.

“It’s not a year for us,” she said. “It’s yesterday.”