Waiting to move on
It certainly sounds like a blessing, these transitional houses built by the nongovernment organization Operation Blessing, for the evacuees of Tacloban City who survived the wrath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013.
Last July, 60 families moved into transitional homes—nipa huts made of bamboo matting and coconut lumber, with a floor area of 18 square meters. Built on a one-hectare lot in Barangay Santo Niño in Tacloban, the houses are a far cry from the makeshift tents and bunkhouses the families used to occupy. Here, the survivors can sleep better at night, without fear of mudslides, floods, and the storm surge that flattened entire villages and swept away lives, homes and livelihood almost a year ago.
Safety and security were their main concerns in relocating these survivors, local officials say proudly, pointing to this flat land in Santo Niño that is at least 24 kilometers away from the nearest body of water.
And aye, there’s the rub: Most of the transplanted survivors are fisherfolk who now find it impossible to ply their trade in their new landlocked home. Santo Niño, a residential zone, is inland and has no farmlands. To get to the nearest fishing ground, they’d have to shell out at least P40 in round-trip fare.
It’s a tough choice these evacuees are forced to make: Live in sordid tents in a treacherous area where they can at least eke out a meager living, or move to the relative comfort and safety of transitional houses in the middle of nowhere, there to scrounge for food and jobs.
The plight of the Yolanda evacuees recalls the sad fate of Zamboanga residents who remain sequestered in evacuation sites one year after being displaced by Moro National Liberation Front rebels who mistook pillage and plunder for a political statement.
At least 11,000 people whose homes were torched by the MNLF renegades are still living in the city’s sports stadium where death and disease are constant, if unwelcome, guests. Because of overcrowding and the lack of water and sanitation, at least 167 evacuees have died of pneumonia, acute gastroenteritis, asthma, tuberculosis, suspected measles, cardiovascular-related diseases, neonatal ailments, malnutrition, fever and congenital anomalies, according to a city health official.
A year’s worth of government rehabilitation efforts, and all they have to show for it are lives interrupted: children forced out of school, and worse, molested or even raped, fathers depending on doles for food, mothers unable to take care of the family’s health needs for lack of basic sanitation resources.
While government officials fall all over themselves in their eagerness to trumpet the country’s latest economic gains, the Yolanda evacuees and the Zamboanga siege survivors remain trapped in their threadbare lives. It’s a frustrating scenario ripe for crime and rebellion.
Tacloban officials say they’re now doing a survey of people staying in temporary shelters to find out what type of livelihood best suits each of them. Before the year ends, the officials add, these evacuees could hopefully be transferred to permanent houses just 100 meters away from their present transitional homes.
But 100 meters from nowhere is still nowhere—where no jobs and no facilities await, only more hunger and despair.
Is this the best that the government can do? What of the donations that the global community have contributed for the rehab of Yolanda survivors? Can the rehab czar help account for this? How long will these displaced folk wait for deliverance to be able to move on with their lives?
With so many disaster-preparedness bodies formed to mitigate the effects of so many natural calamities on the country, it’s unthinkable that people continue to wallow in uncertainty—their lives on hold—one full year after.
Or is prompt, sensitive and appropriate response too much to ask, now that local and national officials are casting a moist eye on the elections in 2016? What would it take to bring their focus back from the Big Prize, to these seemingly insignificant lives from remote, vote-lean villages—part of the public they had vowed to serve before they got elected?
Hopefully, not another Yolanda, nor another MNLF siege.
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