Amid Typhoon Haiyan recovery, some feel they are left behind

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 4 November 2015 17:20 GMT

Arsenjo Francisco has lived near the sea all his life, but the retired Filipino fisherman lost his love of the ocean when Super Typhoon Haiyan killed 10 of his relatives, destroyed his house and swept away his belongings. Two years after the storm he is still waiting to be relocated to safer house away from the seashore. Francisco, 75, is pictured outside his home in the Anibong slum of Tacloban in the Philippines, Oct 5, 2015. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Astrid Zweynert

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Thousands of families still live in transitional shelters while waiting for permanent resettlement in central Philippines

TACLOBAN, Philippines, Nov 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Arsenjo Francisco has lived near the sea all his life, but the retired Filipino fisherman lost his love of the ocean when Super Tyhoon Haiyan killed 10 of his relatives, destroyed his house and swept away his belongings.

Yolanda, as it is locally known, was the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, killing more than 6,300 people and uprooting 4.1 million.

Francisco painstakingly rebuilt his home in Tacloban's Anibong slum after disaster struck on Nov. 8, 2013, but when the government offered to relocate him to a sturdier house away from the seashore under its "Build Back Better" policy, he accepted.

"I would like to move to a safer area but I'm still waiting, almost two years later," the 75-year-old said, sitting in a wooden rocking chair he jokingly calls "my present from Yolanda" because it was washed ashore by the typhoon.

Delays in finding rehousing sites, slowness in the release of promised funds, and difficulty finding what the money has been spent on are among the problems, officials say.

The Philippines is hit on average by 20 typhoons per year that can cause heavy casualties and damage to agriculture, infrastructure and private property.

The latest - Typhoon Koppu - killed 48 people and drove more than 700,000 from their homes last month.

SLOW PACE OF REHOUSING

Struck by the slow pace of rehousing, Chaloka Beyani, a United Nations special rapporteur, said after a visit in July he was concerned about financial constraints on finding durable solutions and providing basic services for survivors.

Data from the Tacloban city government showed only 283 out of 13,062 units targeted by the National Housing Authority had been built by mid-October.

Vilma Cabrera, assistant secretary at the Department for Social Welfare and Development, said it had taken longer than expected to find suitable rehousing sites.

"Yes, there have been delays, primarily due to land issues but also in making sure that residents in the new zones have all the services they need," said Cabrera.

Leonor Briones, president of Social Watch Philippines, a public spending watchdog, said the slow release of the 167 billion pesos ($3.6 billion) earmarked by President Benigno Aquino had caused a lot of problems for local authorities.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said a total of 93.8 billion pesos had been released as of Oct. 23, 2015 under Aquino's masterplan. A further 46.2 billion is proposed for release in 2016, the DBM said.

Briones, a former national treasurer, said it was hard to establish what exactly the money had been spent on because there was no breakdown of the total.

She urged the government to specify in the 2016 budget what the rest of the money will be spent on and to create a separate agency to enable faster release of disaster funds.

"We need to have a closer monitoring system which will report publicly and not just to the president how the money is spent," she said.

TWO-YEAR WAIT FOR REHOUSING

A few hundred yards from Francisco's house the bow of the "Eva Jocelyn", one of several large ships pushed onto the shore by the storm, has been turned into a memorial.

It is due to open this weekend as a reminder of the massive destruction the typhoon wrought on the Eastern Visayas, one of the Philippines' poorest areas where most people rely on agriculture and small-scale commerce for income.

Helped by a massive international aid effort, few major physical scars are still visible in Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people where 90 percent of buildings were destroyed or damaged by the typhoon.

New shopping malls have been opened, many houses rebuilt, and restaurants and bars are thriving, not least because of a large influx of foreign aid workers and volunteers.

"It was utter devastation and this recovery is testament to the resilience of the people of Tacloban," said Jeremy Kilday, director of operations for World Vision's Typhoon Haiyan response, who arrived two days after the disaster.

Despite the recovery, poor people like Richel Quiminales, a mother of seven, fear they are being left behind.

Her husband, a day labourer, earned 260 pesos per day in a cash-for-work programme with World Vision last month to clean their slum of the last bits of debris left behind by Haiyan and other rubbish.

"It's been a huge help because of the extra income," his wife said. "But we need to be able to make a decent living in the future as well."

With the extra money, she was able to expand her sari-sari store, a small convenience store located in a window of her home of the type found in many of Tacloban's streets.

Like Francisco, the Quiminales are waiting to be moved to a safer area after the typhoon washed away their home by the sea.

"The water is contaminated here and my 11-month-old got sick with vomiting and diarrhoea because of it," said Quiminales, 35. The baby was in hospital for two weeks, which the family could ill afford as they had to pay for medicines.

Kilday said World Vision is due to wind down its post-Haiyan work next year, and the focus is now on helping survivors through cash grants, skills training and livelihood programmes.

Fisherman Marlon Canales, 43, who lives in the coastal village of Dulag near Tacloban with his wife and six children, received cash from World Vision to rebuild his destroyed house with materials better able to withstand a storm.

To provide him with more sustainable income, he also received fishing equipment to help him increase his earnings, a much needed financial boost for his family.

Mother-of-five Merove Angelino, meanwhile, bought two pigs with a 10,000 pesos cash grant from the Red Cross as the family found it hard to survive on her husband's 150 pesos a day from casual farm work and the small amount she got doing laundry.

"I can sell a piglet at 1,500 pesos - and I've had nine so far," Angelino, 31, said proudly. "It's been a big help to cover costs to send the children to school and other expenses."

(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org to see more stories)

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