Learning lessons one year on from Typhoon Bopha

By Necephor Mghendi, IFRC, in Manila

Very few of the disasters or crises that have affected Philippines in recent months and years have caught the world’s attention like Typhoon Haiyan. The devastation caused by Haiyan was headline news for two straight weeks, eclipsing the ongoing needs of survivors of the October 2013 earthquake on the neighbouring island of Bohol.

Exactly a year ago another devastating typhoon – Bopha – wreaked havoc across central Mindanao.

The flash floods caused by Bopha killed more than 1,200 people, damaged or destroyed 230,000 houses and literally wiped an entire village off the map. In Mindanao, the Red Cross Red Crescent continues to support shelter reconstruction efforts in the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley and Davao. So far, 600 homes have been completed, 300 are under construction, and 200 more are planned. As attention now shifts from emergency relief to the longer term recovery needs of survivors of Haiyan, it is important to reflect on some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Besides funding limitations, there are a number of reasons why relatively few houses have been built since Bopha struck. In many cases survivors could not return to the locations of their original homes as they would remain exposed to potential future disasters. The same can be expected in areas most heavily affected by Typhoon Haiyan and the Bohol earthquake.

Rebuilding is not simply about providing bricks, mortar and roofing sheets. The Red Cross applies the resilience approach. This means enabling communities to build back safer homes that are more resilient to natural disasters such as typhoons. It also means integrating other sectors within reconstruction programmes, like installing water and sanitation infrastructure and supporting the restoration of people’s livelihoods.

In areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan it can be expected that reconstruction will take years. People will have to provide proof of land ownership, no easy task when important documents have been lost in the disaster. Then there is the question of what to do about informal settlements where people who lost their homes are classed as squatters.

One thing is clear, families living in areas classified as hazard zones must be relocated. But for them to move to safer areas, alternative land will need to be identified. Once safer sites have been found, a consultative process then needs to be initiated between new settlers, agencies supporting their relocation and host communities, so that people are empowered and fully engaged in the reconstruction process, and any potential tensions that could arise between communities are averted. In parallel, there is the process of acquiring the land and legally converting it for settlement. Once all legalities are concluded, the sites have to be developed – which includes site planning, construction of roads and drainage, and providing essential utilities such electricity and water.

It is likely that questions will soon arise as to why recovery efforts are taking so long after Typhoon Haiyan. These questions are valid, as agencies need some accountability checks. However, the groundwork and processes are essential. Recovery efforts will no doubt take time but that is because they must be effective in addressing vulnerabilities, building the capacity of affected communities and contributing to sustainable development. This is crucial for Philippines, because it is not a question of if but when the next disaster will strike.