Philippines: Shattered communities recover two years on from Typhoon Haiyan

Published: 7 November 2015 7:48 CET

By Kate Marshall

Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Visayas region of central Philippines on November 8th, 2013. The super typhoon was the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall in the Philippines. An estimated 16 million people were affected and 1.4 millions homes were left damaged or destroyed.

The combined impacts of Haiyan’s deadly tidal surge and high winds left a landscape strewn with the debris of splintered homes and shattered infrastructure. The typhoon hit some of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.  Almost 24 million coconut trees were downed and thousands of acres of crops destroyed. In a few hours the livelihoods of countless labourers, small-holders and tenant farmers were wiped out.

Somehow, amidst the destruction and chaos, people maintained a sense of purpose. Immediately, they started to rebuild with whatever came to hand, salvaging possessions, bits of roofing, wood and furniture to make a new start.

Six months on, with the help of humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross, signs of recovery were evident. Cash for work programmes were helping to clear the streets of debris and providing people with an income to meet everyday expenses; chainsaws were provided to turn the fallen trees into building lumber, rice was being replanted and seeds distributed.

After a year the vegetation was growing back in most areas and people were reaping a harvest. Thousands of trees were replanted, backyard gardens were starting to flourish, and businesses and markets were getting back on track.


The Philippine Red Cross supported by partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have played a major role in recovery efforts. In the first year, they built or repaired 35,000 homes and provided grants to 29,000 households to kick-start their livelihoods. Cash grants also enabled people to get back on their feet and buy building materials and other essentials.

Despite the steady pace of recovery, there were several challenges. The scale of the Red Cross operation - covering 400 communities across five island groups – meant logistical difficulties. Many beneficiaries were in remote upland areas or on islands far from the mainland. Land ownership and relocation of households were also fraught issues for many humanitarian agencies.  

But two years on, over 880,000 people have now been helped to get their lives back to normal. More homes have been built together with new medical centres that service local communities. More people have started small businesses and received vocational skills training that boost their employment prospects. Water and sanitation facilities have been upgraded in schools and thousands of children have a better understanding of disease prevention and good hygiene.

“Collectively, all these activities have contributed to increasing the safety and resilience of communities”, said Richard Gordon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.  “Our network of dedicated volunteers has been the backbone of the entire operation and since the typhoon it has grown both in number and skills.”

The Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan recovery operation will continue into 2016.