Greater disaster wrought by ‘Yolanda’
Three years have passed since Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” recorded as the strongest storm in history, smashed into Samar and Leyte as well as other islands in the Visayas. Apart from the strong winds that broke normal standards, the sea rose to heights beyond imagination. The pummeling of the winds and waves caused enormous devastation, flooding and destroying homes, submerging whole communities, and destroying crops and livelihoods. At Ground Zero, not only homes but also lives were wrecked.
The deafening roar of the winds and the onslaught of gigantic waves keep coming back to mind every time there is news of low-pressure areas, storms, or typhoons coming. The trauma of Yolanda continues to linger in the consciousness of those who survived its ferocity. Rising from Ground Zero and moving on from the devastation are easier said than done. Painful reminders continue to hound many survivors—not just images of the deluge and the ruins of its aftermath, but also the greater disaster of inequity and injustice foisted upon the typhoon victims.
When the sea waters receded and the winds started to calm down, the clearing of the once-zero-visibility horizon exposed the enormous devastation. The bewildered survivors came close to starvation as food supplies were literally washed away by the flood, and the deep wells discharged underground water that was salty and unsafe for drinking. For days choppers hovered overhead, seemingly to assess the extent of the damage, while survivors wailed for help—to no avail. It took several days before relief goods and medical personnel began arriving in the desolated areas.
When members of international groups and nongovernment organizations reached the survivors, they performed rapid assessments and promised to return with food and other forms of assistance. Government officials arrived much later, and also conducted assessments of the damage. Keeping their hopes up for the promised assistance, the survivors slowly picked through the ruins of their homes even as others wandered around in search for missing family members.
The lucky ones found their missing loved ones alive, albeit with bruises and other injuries. Others recovered only the bodies of family members, relatives and friends who perished in the storm surge. A lot of those who perished were found in a state beyond recognition, and were buried in mass graves. Many survivors never found their missing kin, and they will bear the pain of their loss for the rest of their lives.
International aid organizations, NGOs, church groups and government agencies primarily focused on data-gathering. The figures obtained as to the number of survivors, the injured and the dead, as well as the extent of damage on dwellings and livelihood, became useful information in their campaign for aid from donors worldwide. The number of survivors was inclusive and encompassing, without any distinction or discrimination. The figures were gathered to ensure that donations would not fall short of the actual needs of the survivors.
Over a year after the government agencies were able to gather the necessary data, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman issued on Nov. 21, 2014, Memorandum Circular No. 24, series of 2014. But the policy purposely excluded many victims who were part of the numbers used in raising funds, from availing themselves of the government shelter assistance.
It pains me to realize that typhoon victims were merely used as tools in raising funds, only to be excluded in the grant of assistance when the funds had been gathered in their name. Victimizing the typhoon victims is the greater disaster wrought by Yolanda.
Al Ellema is a civil engineer by profession and a writer by accident. He is one of the finalists in the “Our Edsa” essay and selfie contest of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
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