PH grapples with shelter, jobs needs for Yolanda survivors

Posted at 05/08/14 2:37 PM

MARABUT, Philippines -During the last three months, the Tiozon family has been staying in a unit of bunkhouses erected in Marabut town on Samar Island after super typhoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan) plowed through the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year, damaging about a million houses.

As the family of three marks the sixth month since the powerful typhoon struck, they are worried about their future because of uncertainties in their relocation and their livelihood -- issues that the government and international aid agencies admit are big challenges.

"We don't have peace of mind. We're not sure if we can still stay here after August because they said we can only stay here for six months. And we have no stable jobs," Noimie, 23, the mother of the family, told Kyodo News.

The Tiozon's house, located near the sea, was washed out by surging seawaters and fallen trees during the onslaught of Haiyan. They were fortunate to have survived, having evacuated to their relatives' house before the typhoon arrived.

Noimie said she has recently been working temporarily as an informal community teacher, allowing her to earn 100 pesos a day (about $2.25), while her husband, Raul, 32, avails of cash-for-work programs by various organizations.

Raul has skills in repairing mobile phones, something he made a living out of for several years before. But having lost all his equipment to Haiyan, he has to make do with cleanup and construction jobs, earning about the same amount per day as Noimie.

The couple's son, 3-year-old Jaylhord, tags along with his mother even when she goes out to teach.

While the family feels better staying at the bunkhouse, which measures no more than 15 square meters, they have minor complaints such as lack of electrical supply and stable supply of drinking water.

But they are grateful for the continuing supply of relief food packs.

"We can sleep better here, unlike at the makeshift tent that we made near our damaged house after the typhoon. It was hot there because of the tarpaulin, and sometimes water would drip inside when it rained. And our son would panic if the wind was strong and there was heavy rain, and if we could sense big splashes in the sea," Noimie said.

While the Tiozon couple intends to abide by the government ban on rebuilding houses near the sea, they hope that the permanent resettlement provided for them will also afford them of sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Absent of the permanent relocation site, they pray that they can be allowed to continue staying at the bunkhouse.

Municipal social welfare officer Teresita Sabulao said the Tiozons are among the 220 families who have moved into the 19 bunkhouses in Marabut, although some continue to stay in no-build zone areas, namely those within 40 meters of the shoreline.

The coastal town of nearly 19,000 people who rely on farming and fishing also suffered massive devastation, including all government buildings, churches, schools and houses, after Haiyan brought winds as strong as 235 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 275 kph.

Local authorities estimate the cost of damage in the town at nearly 2 billion pesos, while 31 people died and went missing.

Sabulao said the town is only starting to recover and still has a long way to go.

In a press briefing Wednesday, Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson admitted that the biggest challenge the government is facing in the rehabilitation of Haiyan-hit areas is the resettlement of families from the no-build zones, noting that of the required 1,272 hectares to accommodate the projected 216,966 housing units for these families, only 248 hectares have so far been identified by the government.

Lacson said selecting safe permanent relocation sites for the affected families is consistent with the build-back-better thrust of the government.

Social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman said a total of 3,455 families have been moved to 265 bunkhouses in the affected regions.

"Six months after Yolanda (local name of Haiyan), the Department of Social Welfare and Development continues to assist survivors through provision of relief assistance, emergency shelter materials, shelter kits, cash-for-asset, and other social protection services," she said.

On livelihood, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for the Philippines Klaus Beck said rebuilding it remains "an enormous challenge," especially because of the nearly 6 million affected workers, "2.6 million were already living at or near the poverty line before Haiyan."

Beck said millions of coconut trees -- a basic source of income in the affected areas, especially in the worst-hit islands of Samar and Leyte -- were toppled during the typhoon, and it will take up to eight years for replacement trees to become fully productive.

Business operations in the affected areas have also yet to return to 100 percent normalcy, with some public markets only at 30-40 percent level in operation, according to Trade and Industry Undersecretary Zeny Maglaya.

"We are all working together with our partner agencies and development partners and donors because a lot of support is also given to the livelihood cluster when it comes to sustainable development. We are really focused on not just temporary job generation, but also on something that we can really be able to hang on in the medium and long terms," Maglaya said.

Lacson said that despite the absence of a master rehabilitation plan, the completion of which has been delayed by some factors, initiatives on the ground by government, the private sector and aid agencies make the rehabilitation and recovery "on track."

"Why do I say we're on track? First, there is no famine. There is no epidemic. And there is no breakdown of law and order. If there are people who complain of hunger, these are probably just the lazy people," he said.

In the meantime, as many people in Marabut continue to stay in the temporary shelters and in their damaged houses, they also "live in fear, especially if another typhoon comes, because of our Yolanda experience," Sabulao told Kyodo News.

"Honestly, we're not sure what awaits us six months after," Noimie Tiozon said.