A year and a half after ‘Yolanda’ in Tacloban
We are now a year and a half into the mending of Tacloban. It has been a lifetime for the “Yolanda” survivors, but in development terms it is a short time. It is, however, not too early to ask what have been the great mistakes, special cruelties and human failures of the recovery to date. Hopefully, we will not repeat them.
Six-month community feeding. In April 2014 we were told that all community feeding programs of the United Nations would end. This was a policy decision of the UN; it was not based on an assessment of the nourishment state of the people on the ground. Feeding programs end after six months in all disasters where the UN is involved. At about that time a member of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit made a survey of children 0-5 years old in Barangay 89-90 and found that 40 percent were malnourished and 15 were dangerously so. Facts on the ground would, it seems, call for a continuation of the feeding, especially since there was no indication that people had enough jobs, including cash for work, to make up for the loss of the community feeding programs. A year later there still are not enough jobs and cash for work opportunities.
We believe the UN should relate its basic programs, such as food distribution, to the actual situation on the ground in different countries, and not to policies worked out in offices in New York City.
No-build zone. Shortly after Yolanda, Malacañang issued the “no-build zone” decree. No one was allowed to build in the 40-meter-wide zone near the sea. After the typhoon, the first signs to appear in urban poor areas were “no build” warnings. Instead of messages of compassion from Malacañang, promising a better future with decent houses and land tenure security, the poor received the chilling message, “You are not welcome in these zones. You will be relocated.”
After the tsunami of 2007 in Thailand and Sri Lanka—to name two countries who had the problem—powerful individuals tried to force poor families, often fishermen, away from the beaches to sites far inland; they attempted to take over the waterfront properties for resorts and luxury houses. Civic groups fought this crime. “No build” seemed to favor the aggressive businessmen in this history. Is that what the government intended? At one point the government announced that “no build” applied to residences and not to hotels, resorts and businesses. Like the decree, this revision looked to the good of the well-off. Poor people cannot build hotels.
The decree is no longer a factor. Rich people build wherever they want and poor people farm in some 40-meter zones.
The government should bring hope in times of crisis, not add to people’s sorrows. If the national government feels it should speak, let it speak for the poor.
Distant relocation. Hundreds of thousands of urban poor people have since the 1960s been moved from Metro Manila to distant relocation sites. It is a sad history of hunger, joblessness and lack of basic services. Nongovernment organizations estimate that 40 percent of the relocated families have returned to their homes in Metro Manila to live in worse cauldrons of filth and indignity than they had experienced before.
The problem has moved to Tacloban. The city has decided that 14,000 poor families who lost their homes to Yolanda will be relocated to its far north. Unfortunately, there are no jobs there, and no food. The plan guarantees immeasurable suffering.
There is an alternative: The poor families can be relocated in-city and helped to develop livelihood schemes. The families will be near schools, hospitals and churches, not left to struggle for survival far from civilization.
Government officials and NGOs, both international and local, know that relocation of the poor to the far north is an errant policy. But so far they haven’t moved to critique it. We should all ask: Why such silence?
Also, it seems that in this important matter the poor families should be offered a choice. They should be allowed to choose in-city relocation if they want. It is possible. The Catholic Church is now establishing a 12-hectare relocation site in-city, with enough livelihood activities to give a family an income of at least P6,500 a month, which, when linked with the money the people earn in the city, can provide for decent basic needs. The new relocation site is called the “Pope Francis Housing Project,” and is intended to carry on the compassion and mercy the Pope showed in his visit here.
Big business. Where is the public-private partnership that would benefit Tacloban? Where in Tacloban are the projects funded and managed by big businesses? They may be doing more than we know about, but business usually doesn’t hide its good works. What is business doing about the fish stocks in Leyte Gulf, or the devastated coconut industry? Half the families along the east coast of Leyte are fishermen or coconut farmers. We see our business heads concerned with PPPs that build subways of three stations in Makati and superhighways along Laguna Lake. But what of the poor of Eastern Visayas? Are any businessmen interested in trying to find ways to make a plan that can show how our economy can be inclusive, and as equal as Pope Francis requests? Can they at least make a plan, so the matter can be discussed publicly?
Judgment. At the very least, we can say that agencies and individuals have made decisions that have caused great suffering. There were alternative paths they could have taken, but didn’t. Was the suffering of the poor acceptable to them as collateral damage is to nations at war?
We look to those in positions of power to ensure that there is basic justice and human care in all they do.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).
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