It’s ‘do better,’ sirs
TO HEAR Malacañang respond to comments on the glacial pace of the post-“Yolanda” reconstruction, you’d think we’re in competition—who was worst hit, who bounced back faster, who’s built back better.
“[T]he Aquino administration had done quite better than even the US government, which continues to grapple 10 years after Hurricane “Katrina,” which sank New Orleans and caused severe devastation in states along the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas,” presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was quoted as saying.
And with local critics, two years after the supertyphoon, carping on lack of housing and on rotten relief goods and donations growing fat in bank accounts instead of being distributed to the needy, Malacañang’s other mouthpiece, Edwin Lacierda, pointed to foreign agencies, the United Nations among them, as saying that the Philippines was rebuilding faster than other developing countries struck by comparable natural disasters.
We don’t want to indulge Malacañang in this “game,” but just this once, if only to gauge how valid disinterested observations are, especially in this season of political one-upmanship, when every issue is campaign fodder.
Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the strongest typhoon to ever hit land, with howling 305 kph-plus winds and 20-foot storm surges, flattened Tacloban City in Leyte, devastated a host of towns in central Philippines, left at least 7,350 people dead or missing, and destroyed or washed away some 987,000 homes.
The Aquino administration launched a P150-billion response program that included relief packs, emergency shelter assistance, infrastructure repairs and start-up capital for livelihood.
Two years on, critics say only 18 percent of relief funds have been used. Authorities admit only 51 percent of the rehabilitation projects have been completed. Of the 205,128 families needing relocation, just 928 have been transferred to permanent shelters. The National Housing Authority also admitted that less than half of the P61.262 billion earmarked for Yolanda survivors’ housing has been used.
Not hobbled by government’s painfully slow process of accounting and releasing funds, private donations seemed to have had easier passage. Of the P1.1-billion donations from private organizations, some P995 million have been released, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman says.
Meanwhile, Caritas has provided 132 families with housing units; and the Red Cross has given cash assistance to more than 90,000 families and rebuilt or repaired 65,000 homes.
Did the US government do any better after Hurricane Katrina which struck in 2005, with sustained winds of 193 kph, and storm surges that reached 10 to 28 feet?
Katrina left at least 1,800 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, and destroyed some $100-billion worth of property and infrastructure.
Ten years on, some $75 billion has been spent for emergency relief and some $10 billion for 24,000 reconstruction projects. Of the budget allotted, about $2.5 billion remains.
In Japan, the 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami left at least 16,000 people and more than 3,000 others missing. The crisis that the quake-cum-tsunami sparked at the Fukushima nuclear plant still keeps more than 330,000 survivors from returning to their homes, leaving them to stay in temporary accommodations or evacuation centers.
According to the National Police Agency of Japan, almost 300,000 buildings were destroyed and one million others were damaged by the quake, tsunami or resulting fires. Almost 4,000 roads, 78 bridges and 29 railways were also affected. National and local authorities believe the reconstruction will cost Japan more than $272 billion over a decade.
Aside from rebuilding, Japan is burdened with some 25 million tons of debris that must be processed before being disposed. So far, it has processed only 5 percent, with 72 percent being stored in temporary sites. With few sites identified for disposal, and with fears of radiation contamination, the original goal of completing disposal by 2014 proved unrealistic. However, the UN Environment Program has praised Japan’s emphasis on waste segregation and recycling.
And like the Philippines, Japan struggles with the dilemma of whether its coastlines could still be deemed habitable.
To be sure, Japan and the United States have an edge over our resource-poor country in terms of reconstruction. But this is not a question of who bounced back faster, who built back better, as Malacañang seems to see it.
The issue is for Malacañang to act on the valid expectations of the Yolanda survivors with greater political will—to do better as, obviously, people expect it to.
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