Six months after Haiyan, locals worry about the next storm

Publié: 6 mai 2014 11:34 CET

By Kate Marshall, IFRC

Six months after the worst typhoon ever to make landfall, life in the Visayas is getting back to normal. Homes have been rebuilt, rubbish removed, coconut trees milled. The bumper rice harvest is drying in the sun.

In urban areas, businesses have reopened, supplies are readily available and nightlife is thriving. As new cafes, restaurants and hotels open up, young Visayans are being enticed back home with promises of employment.

But for informal settlers and the poor, little has changed. There are still boarded up areas, the ‘no-build/no-dwell  zones’ banning people from living within 40 metres of the shoreline are either unenforced or ignored, and higher ground earmarked for relocation has yet to be cleared. Some legislators are also challenging the legality of forcing fishermen and coastal communities to relocate on the grounds that it would hamper their way of life, and also claiming that getting rid of informal settlements would set a convenient precedent for local officials to sell the land to private developers.

Despite the fecundity of the soil, subsistence tenant farmers still struggle to make a living. On the coast, fishermen complain about the poor catch and the rising cost of fuel and fishing nets.  

When you ask about the future, ordinary people worry that the storm-prone Visayas is not adequately prepared for the next ‘big one’ and that changing weather patterns are making their lives unpredictable.  

The future at risk

Leyte-born Allan Mosqueda, a shelter and livelihoods officer for Philippine Red Cross, said another major typhoon this season would jeopardise the island’s economic recovery and stretch resources to the limit, especially in the more densely populated east where at least 8,000 families still live in evacuation shelters.

Philippine Red Cross shelter officer Allan Mosqueda explains the local government's controversial no-build policy to a visiting foreign official. Behind him, the altered 'no build zone area' sign sums up the mood of the local informal settlers, many of whom are opposing moves to resettle them further inland
Philippine Red Cross shelter officer Allan Mosqueda explains the local government's controversial no-build policy to a visiting foreign official. Behind him, the altered 'no build zone area' sign sums up the mood of the local informal settlers, many of whom are opposing moves to resettle them further inland.

A recent Shelter Cluster report, Shelter and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Response Monitoring for Typhoon Haiyan, found outstanding needs in both coastal and rural areas north of the typhoon’s track and recommended that recovery focus on these and difficult-to-reach inland communities.

In terms of disaster planning, some provinces and local governments have comprehensive risk reduction and evacuation plans, while others appear to have done nothing.  

According to USAID, 796 million US dollars has poured into government coffers from international donors, yet locals will tell you there is little to show for it. Opinion is divided about what will happen once the aid agencies depart and the media spotlight shifts elsewhere.

The Philippines Red Cross has already announced a three-year, 365 million US dollar Haiyan recovery program. Speaking this week at a press conference marking the six-month anniversary, Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang noted that thousands of people are still in need of assistance.

“Up to this day, we can still hear the echoes of the suffering, the cries for help,” she said.

At the same press conference, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Head of  Delegation in the Philippines, Marcel Fortier, predicted that recovery would take several years. “We know the recovery will be a long road,” he said.

One significant challenge is how to help the huge number of displaced and vulnerable people survive the next typhoon season when shelter agencies are still scrambling to meet their 178 million US dollar funding target.

“Our response to Haiyan has been quicker, wider and deeper than anything we’ve done before,” said Shelter Cluster Coordinator in the Philippines, James Shepherd-Barron. The IFRC is co-lead of the Shelter Cluster, together with the Philippine Government.

“However, funding constraints mean we’ll meet less than half our target of 500,000 households.”

Shepherd-Barron estimates over two million people lack durable shelter, including half a million people who will be in tents or makeshift homes when the typhoon season returns. “This means at-risk groups, especially those in unsafe areas, are being left vulnerable and exposed to seismic, flooding and tsunami events,” he said.

Philippine Red Cross staff and volunteers also have a mammoth task ahead of them. With the emergency relief phase over, the next step is to strengthen community resilience with integrated shelter, livelihoods, health and education programs. Forward planning by the Red Cross logistics team immediately after Haiyan means that in coming months a total 300,000 corrugated iron roofing sheets will be distributed as part of the transitional shelter program to build 50,000 homes in two years in Panay and Leyte.

Build safer

At the urging of the Shelter Cluster report, Red Cross teams will be working as fast as possible to fill the gaps in community knowledge with ‘build back safer’ messages to promote resilience and preparedness.

The health team will rebuild 35 clinics across the affected area and train community-based health volunteers to spot signs of disease and report outbreaks before they get a hold.

Philippine Red Cross livelihoods support for 10,000 households across four provinces will soon kick off in Aklan, Panay island. This is a conditional cash program that will also include recovery assistance for rebuilding temporary homes until enough permanent homes are built.

In Leyte, the Philippine Red Cross is providing employment and skills training for local farmers who are interested in learning new skills like carpentry and masonry, both of which are in short supply.

Skilled labourers are paid 500 pesos a day, unskilled labourers 300 pesos, which compares favourably with the 120 pesos a day paid to farm labourers.

Mosqueda says the challenge is figuring out how to engage and motivate the local population to participate in their own recovery by not relying on handouts, but using the extra income to benefit their children and save for their education. “There needs to be a balance between paying people to learn new skills versus cash-for-work programs that teach people nothing,” he said. “When the aid agencies leave, people will have to go back to the old ways.”