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Tacloban must rise from the rubble

TACLOBAN CITY—I had long planned on visiting Tacloban, the capital city of Leyte, to enjoy a panoramic view of nature. I had also long wanted to visit the famous landing site of the late American general Douglas MacArthur in the town of Palo. After he was ordered to leave Bataan for Australia during World War II, MacArthur promised the Filipino people that he would return. It was a promise that boosted the Filipinos’ fighting spirit against the Japanese occupiers. Thus, the landing site has become symbolic of hope and commitment.

The plan to fly to Leyte was stalled when Supertyphoon “Yolanda” beat us to the draw in November last year. It was only last week that our visit finally pushed through. And my brother Javier and I witnessed, with heavy hearts, the devastation wrought by Yolanda’s wrath, and the need for reconstruction and rehabilitation that remains starkly urgent to this day.

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It became clear to us that the entire city and many other parts of Leyte and its neighboring islands will never be the same again.

The plane my brother and I boarded was full. We landed at the former airport, now a makeshift open terminal. The porters presented a song number as a welcoming gesture to the arrivals. Perhaps it was their way of showing gratitude and goodwill for the help pouring in from all over the world. One could feel their determination to get their city, and their shattered lives, back on track.

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To our surprise, all the hotels were fully occupied, primarily by foreign relief workers. We were lucky to find a room to share at the 3-story Z-Pad Residence Hotel about 100 meters from the sea.

But when night descended, only a few dim streetlights pierced the darkness. The streets were empty; what was once a bustling city had been reduced to a seeming ghost town.

We saw in the light of day that the people who had lost their homes to Yolanda’s storm surge are still living in tents donated by various foreign governments. But we also saw how, despite their makeshift lodgings and unfortunate circumstances, the people were working to rebuild their dwellings and their lives. It was inspiring to see them staying on, refusing to uproot themselves from their city.

We likewise saw a number of Korean and Japanese nationals at work in construction activities, using their own equipment. Pieces of wood from trees felled by Yolanda were still scattered about. Coco lumber seemed to be the available building material in the reconstruction of communities.

After Yolanda, the beach is now considered a “no-build zone.” But despite the signs prominently posted near the sea and canals, many continue to violate the order.

I frankly think that the radius of the “no-build zone” should be expanded. If a new Tacloban were to rise, it must be from the interior and not from where it faces the mighty

Pacific winds. Who knows when new weather disturbances, perhaps even stronger than Yolanda, may strike again? In this rehabilitation stage of Tacloban, foresight is extremely vital to save lives and property.

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But it has been more than four months since Yolanda struck, yet Tacloban’s wounds remain fresh.

Let not the deaths of Yolanda’s countless victims be in vain. We need to help Tacloban and we must do it fast. The national and local governments must unite and come up with a master plan for rebuilding. It did not seem like such a plan is now in operation.

As one of the initial steps, the government should consider providing the residents of the hard-hit areas with tax relief. Why add to the survivors’ suffering? They must be given incentives to stay and revive their business enterprises.

It was ironic that Yolanda struck at the time when the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention was holding its Conference of Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland. It was as if the supertyphoon were timed to jolt the world into acknowledging the immense impact of climate change. Beamed worldwide from “ground zero,” the eyewitness reports of foreign correspondents—the shocking impact of the storm surge and hurricane-force winds of the strongest storm on record to make landfall—served to deliver the alarming message that it’s later than we think. But the message was sadly lost on the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless, the lessons learned are the most important. Rehabilitating the environment of Leyte (and neighboring Samar) is a necessary collective effort. There is a need to plant more mangroves and to engage in reforestation for starters.

We must adapt and prepare. We must mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and show the rest of the world that it can be done.

A fighting spirit is what is needed against a war we all must win: a war against climate change. Let the rehabilitation of Leyte be a showcase of how our fighting spirit works.

Tacloban rising from the rubble will again be the Filipinos’ symbol of hope and commitment, not only in history books but in reality.

Antonio M. Claparols ([email protected]) is president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines.

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TAGS: Haiyan, Leyte, Palo, Tacloban, Yolanda, Yolanda aid
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