2 years after ‘Yolanda’
It’s been two years since Supertyphoon “Yolanda” smashed into the Visayas and changed not only the landscape but also life as the people there once knew it. Wasn’t it only yesterday when the survivors of the most destructive typhoon to hit land were dazedly surveying what had remained of their homes, searching for their loved ones, and wondering how to bury their dead?
The world, through the international media, saw the devastation and gasped. It was not too long before help in cash and in kind poured in from all parts of the globe, and the Philippines was firmly made to understand that it was not alone. But how has it been since?
The government has poured resources into the massive task of rebuilding, but for many of those directly affected by Yolanda, tremendous problems remain. The devastated areas, such as Tacloban City, no longer bear the superficial marks of disaster; buildings have risen again, and business has been recovering. It is clear that a certain progress has been made, but authorities admit that only 51 percent of the rehabilitation and reconstruction projects were completed two years after the fact.
In Barangay Cabalawan in Tacloban, for example, 115 displaced families still await the permanent housing they were promised. “It’s not safe here,” Rhea Alaga, a mother of two, said of the temporary shelter in which they live. “Every time it rains, my son would cling to me and say, ‘there’s a storm, there’s a storm.’” The National Housing Authority had promised that new homes for Alaga and others would be completed by Oct. 15.
Housing officials testified at a Senate hearing that less than one-tenth of the housing required for the survivors of Yolanda have been built. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma was quick to explain why: “Let’s understand that the devastation done by Yolanda was so extensive. By other countries’ experience, two years is not enough to deal with all the needs of the affected families.”
But according to Chaloka Bayani, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced people, the Philippine government has simply not done enough: “While [it] is to be commended in terms of its immediate responses, its attention for ensuring sustainable durable solutions for internally displaced [people] remains inadequate to date,” Bayani said in a website post.
Imagine if foreign governments, nongovernment organizations, big business, and private citizens had not pitched in. Virtually all of the Philippines’ big companies gave much. The Red Cross and Unicef were on the ground at the earliest time possible. Volunteers of the Tzu Chi Foundation, founded in Taiwan and now with 10-million membership through branches in 47 countries, quickly arrived at the disaster area, paying their own way to do grunt work as well as donate over P1 billion in aid. They innovated with a 19-day cash-for-work program in which some 34,000 survivors helped clean up their villages and received cash with which to buy provisions and help restart their local economy. The Urban Poor Associates is still continuing to assist displaced families in Tacloban. That’s just naming a few.
There is a renewed effort to not merely provide food and shelter but also to refocus on the bigger picture. Last March, the Philippine delegation to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, pushed for a greater awareness of how to manage the effects of calamities of the likes of Yolanda. “The new priority action framework for disaster risk reduction must address the growing risks present in countries, especially in vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Loren Legarda, one of the delegation heads. After all, what could be more important than learning how to be ready when something like Yolanda strikes again?
“Disaster preparedness” remains a hot catchphrase among local government units, but the question has to be asked: Are we really ready? The government has done much to help those whose world was upended by Yolanda, but the truth is that its task remains incomplete.
So long as displaced families still sleep in makeshift shelters and their children panic at every roll of thunder, much remains to be done.
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