FOUR years after Typhoon Haiyan (locally called Yolanda) brought unimaginable catastrophe in Central Philippines that destroyed more than one million houses and left over 6,000 people dead, thousands of survivors are still suffering from the effects of one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded on Earth.
Packing sustained winds of up to 315km per hour (195 mph), Haiyan destroyed much of the provinces of Leyte and Samar in Eastern Visayas region with the scene of devastation many described as “absolute mayhem.”
Storm surges were primarily responsible for the 6,300 dead, 1,061 missing and 28,689 injured in Haiyan’s aftermath. It was classified as a Category 5 typhoon, which has the capacity to cause catastrophic damage, a high percentage of destruction of framed homes, total roof failure and wall collapse, isolation of residential areas due to fallen trees and power poles.
As it hit exactly four years ago today, thousands of survivors continue to suffer amid the snail-paced rehabilitation efforts and lack of livelihood assistance.
Of the 56,140 permanent houses targeted for construction in Haiyan-stricken areas in Eastern Visayas, only 30 percent or 16,846 units have been completed, a study by the Manila-based independent think-tank Ibon Foundation showed.
Moreover, out of the completed units only 12,763 have been given to Haiyan-stricken families and still in progress are 11,957 units or 21.29 percent of the target, the foundation said, citing government data.
The government had pegged the cost of reconstruction for Haiyan-affected areas at PHP150 billion (US$2.93 billion at today’s exchange rate), of which US$1.84 billion or 60 percent has been released as of October 2015, data from the Department of Budget and Management said.
Besides government funds, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that foreign donors poured funds amounting to US$865 million as of October 2016 for areas devastated by Haiyan.
Despite the huge public money allocated for the rehabilitation of Haiyan-stricken areas, Ibon scored the government’s rehabilitation as slow, with the survivors becoming “more vulnerable, poorer and hungry with uncertain livelihoods and security of tenure.”
Rehabilitation efforts began during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III and are being continued under the incumbent administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Ibon executive editor and research head Rosario Bella Guzman recently hit the Duterte administration for realigning unused funds for the Haiyan reconstruction in the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City, which was left in shambles after it was occupied by the Islamic State-aligned Maute Group that fought state forces for five months.
While Marawi also needs urgent reconstruction, she noted the Duterte administration must also intensify rehabilitation efforts in Haiyan-stricken area, especially in the livelihood, housing and resettlement clusters.
“Major obstacles identified by the government (for Haiyan affected areas) were surmountable, if only government prioritized resettling the victims and rebuilding their lives and livelihoods,” Guzman said in a statement. “Instead, infrastructure was prioritized to immediately restore business activities.”
Out of the 86 resettlement sites, only five water supply projects have been completed and only 59 out of the 86 resettlement sites have electricity, she said.
The regional office of the National Economic and Development Authority attributed the slow pace of construction to unavailable lots, land acquisition issues and procurement problems while the delays in transfers were primarily due to unavailable power and water supply in the sites.
Guzman pointed out that notwithstanding the urgency of Marawi rehabilitation, the diversion of funds from unfinished reconstruction efforts in the Eastern Visayas indicates government neglect of rehabilitation work in the region.
“It gives the impression that the job has been done while in fact thousands of survivors are still without livelihoods and languish in substandard shelters and living conditions,” Guzman said.
In August, Duterte created Inter-Agency Task Force-Yolanda (Haiyan) to implement and monitor the government’s rehabilitation programme for areas devastated by the super typhoon.
During the third anniversary last year for Haiyan, Duterte visited ground zero and expressed dissatisfaction with what has been done for the typhoon victims.
Last November 1, when Filipinos usually honour the dead by visiting cemeteries, typhoon survivors lit candles at a mass grave to demand faster reconstruction works and more livelihood assistance.
People Surge, the alliance of Haiyan survivors, lamented that after four years, thousands of families remain in temporary shelters and many are without sustainable sources of livelihood.
Among those who have been resettled in permanent housing communities, their persistent complain include lack of electricity and access to potable water, the group said. In general, they accused the government of “criminal neglect” for their continuing suffering.
“We are mournful of the fact that on top of “non-stop” calamities every year, criminal negligence and massive corruption over Yolanda (Haiyan) funded projects and operations are adding to the extreme conditions faced by the survivors,” People Surge secretary-general Marissa Cabaljao said.
Cabaljao called for an investigation on the so-called “Gang of Five” involving former President Aquino, former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, former Yolanda Rehab tsar and now Senator Panfilo Lacson, former local governments secretary Mar Roxas and former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla.
She asked Duterte to handle the post-Yolanda recovery with “utmost seriousness.”
“He has to get things done along the lines of pro-people rehabilitation otherwise he is no different from the previous administration Cabaljao said.