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When Typhoon Bopha, locally known as Pablo, swept across the Philippine island of Mindanao last December, more than 200,000 families in the provinces of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, and Caraga region lost their homes. Almost four months have elapsed and an assessment of the progress and effectiveness of the response to addressing emergency shelter needs has just been completed by REACH (a specialist humanitarian assessment organization). The assessment has revealed that an estimated 46 percent of affected families - nearly half a million people - are still living in houses classified as ‘uninhabitable’.
The assessment was commissioned by the Shelter Cluster – an inter-agency coordination platform for all organizations working to address shelter needs in the wake of Typhoon Bopha. While some positive signs of recovery were identified, the assessment highlighted worrying gaps and inconsistencies in the levels of emergency assistance provided.
85% of affected families currently live on the site of their original homes. Some have received a tarpaulin or other form of emergency shelter assistance. Most are salvaging materials from their wrecked houses and are rebuilding and moving on with their lives as best they can. Despite the fact that 25% of this population continue to live in makeshift shelters, there are greater indications of a return to normality, Families are living together, shops and stores are beginning to reopen and community buildings and services are functioning.
Other assessment findings reveal a more troubling picture. An unusually high number of vulnerable groups were identified among the typhoon-affected population. 10% of households included people living with disabilities and 26% included lactating mothers. A further 11% of households were headed by a single adult. Many of these unassisted families live in remote, rural and indigenous areas. There is also increasing evidence of spontaneous settlements emerging, where families have sought access to assistance by settling along the sides of roads and highways.
Significant emergency shelter needs remain, yet the humanitarian response remains slow and underfunded. Funding constraints have meant that the quality of emergency shelter provision has typically been well below Sphere humanitarian standards. Of the 86,000 families assisted by agencies in the Shelter Cluster, half have only received a single tarpaulin as relief agencies have struggled to find the resources to provide a more comprehensive package of assistance. There is an urgent and ongoing need for more durable solutions – tools, roofing, and construction materials – in order to provide the immediate basis for longer term recovery.
Despite the magnitude of the disaster, emergency appeals launched by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the UN’s Revised Bopha Action Plan are only 30 percent met. As planning begins for longer term reconstruction, the humanitarian community must ensure that shelter needs are addressed. If they are ignored, there is a high likelihood that individual and community coping mechanisms will be further eroded, leaving the survivors of Bopha highly vulnerable to future shocks.
The author, Tom Bamforth, heads up the Shelter Cluster, an inter-agency coordination platform that brings together local and international humanitarian organizations that are responding to emergency shelter needs in Mindanao.