“Yolanda” has yet to be surpassed, thankfully, as the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. Four years after it slammed into the Visayas and brought the bustling city of Tacloban to its knees, it is still being talked about, its victims mourned, and the destruction it wrought lamented.
At first, no one realized how bad it was. Forming from Micronesia, Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) swept into the Philippines on Nov. 6, 2013, and had accelerated into a monster by Nov. 8, eliciting Public Storm Warning Signal No. 4.
Eastern Visayas went dark — and Leyte and Samar were ravaged by a supertyphoon that seemed to have crept up and exploded, flooding seaside settlements.
Meteorologists worldwide were astounded by Yolanda’s approach. It led to the phenomenon that Filipinos now know all too well — the storm surge, or the sudden abnormal increase in the height of sea water caused by a typhoon.
What happened in Tacloban, considered Ground Zero for Yolanda, was nightmare fuel.
Residents drowned in the floods or were swept out to sea. Wind and water tore children from their parents’ arms. Houses and buildings crumbled in the storm surge; entire floors of churches and hospitals were flooded. Motor vehicles bobbed in the swirling waters like toys.
By the time Yolanda had fizzed out on Nov. 11, Tacloban looked like a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Early this month the World Bank released a report titled “Philippines: Lessons Learned from Yolanda — An Assessment of the Post-Yolanda Short and Medium-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation Interventions of the Government.”
It spells out the damage in cold numbers: The supertyphoon hit 171 cities and municipalities, ultimately affecting 12 million people. It left over 6,300 people dead, with 1,000 still missing and 28,000 injured.
Yolanda hit the country so badly that it actually sliced 0.9 percent from the gross domestic product, caused 2.3 million Filipinos to fall below the poverty line, and eventually cost a total of P571.1 billion.
But the stormy legacy that remains with us is made up of the displaced. Yolanda rendered over 900,000 families homeless, with more than 1 million houses damaged. But the real horror movie is the failure of government efforts to deal with the supertyphoon’s lasting effects.
The World Bank report states this outright, citing how, “with the scale and impact” of Yolanda, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was “not an appropriate vehicle for coordinating a response, rehabilitation and recovery effort.”
The agency’s confused coordination of the rehabilitation effort among its 42 attached bodies still haunts us today.
The worst details concern those still waiting for housing. Throughout the Visayas, as the National Housing Authority statistics show, only 34 percent of the promised housing units have been built.
That’s only 26,256 units spread across 14 provinces plus Tacloban City. Yet only half of the 54,180 houses completed are now occupied.
Last January, President Duterte threatened NHA officials that he would make them bear crosses in public should they fail to accomplish the housing goals by April. That didn’t work, and the cost is felt by Yolanda’s survivors.
“We want to move out of here,” Cristine Novilla, who had just delivered a baby in a hut cobbled together from whatever her family could find, said plaintively. Her family is among the over 4,000 still waiting for homes promised by the government.
In 2015, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who served as presidential adviser on the Yolanda rehabilitation effort, criticized the Department of Budget and Management for not releasing the P167.8 billion earmarked for the rehab fast enough.
“My conclusion at that time was that the rehabilitation was not [deemed] important,” he said. “Because how could you forget to put an item for rehabilitation for Yolanda if it’s important? And to think we were then in the thick of rehabilitation efforts.”
The apparent paralysis, which includes excruciating processes of securing documentary requirements, is an old bureaucratic malady that plagues many postdisaster programs.
Will this malady besetting the continuing rebuilding of Eastern Visayas also afflict the planned rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City?
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