By BENJIE OLIVEROS
There have been more than one view of how rehabilitation efforts, especially in hard-hit Eastern Visayas, have progressed a year after super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the country. It’s as if people are talking about different worlds.
As early as his July 2014 state of the nation address, President Benigno Aquino III has declared that the government’s response to Yolanda has been on time. But the truth came out when President Aquino approved the rehabilitation plan just recently, a mere weeks before the first year anniversary of the day Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked havoc on vast swaths of the country.
International agencies, on the other hand, tend to highlight and feature the success of their projects at the community level. Rightfully so, we never expected them to take charge of emergency response and rehabilitation efforts on all the areas affected by Haiyan. That is the responsibility of the Philippine government. Nevertheless, international agencies have declared that they are beyond the stage of emergency response and early recovery and are now entering the stage of long-term recovery or development.
Independent think tank Ibon Foundation came up with a statistical analysis comparing government targets with its actual accomplishments. What is Ibon’s conclusion? The Aquino government has been lagging behind miserably in its targets.
According to the analysis of Ibon Foundation: “1.5 families were affected yet only 215,471 families are reported to have benefited from Cash for Building Livelihood Assets projects. Only 44,870 fisherfolk were provided fishing gears and 32,081 fisherfolk had their bancas replaced or repaired; only 4,507 seaweed farmers were assisted.”
“Only 9,149 farmers were provided farm implements, 2,482 farmers given seeds and 160 farmers helped with animal restocking. Just 27 public markets out of the target 132 have been repaired or rehabilitated. Just 58 kilometers of farm-to-market roads out of the target 315 kilometers have been rehabilitated or constructed.”
“Some 1.2 million houses were damaged or destroyed; however only 364 housing units were reportedly completed in Tacloban and Tanauan, Leyte. Only 213 classrooms have been repaired out of the target 19,648 classrooms. Only 13 health facilities have been rehabilitated. Meanwhile some 18 doctors, 668 nurses and 233 midwives have been deployed in Regions VII and VIII.”
“Efforts to rebuild infrastructure are also moving slowly. Only 5.8 kilometers of national roads have been repaired or rehabilitated out of a target 116 kilometers, three (3) bridges out of a target 34 bridges, six (6) ports out of a target 43 port facilities, 33 out of 99 flood control facilities, 25 municipal halls out of a target 153 municipal, city and provincial halls, and 21 out of 161 civic centers.”
If one would go to Tacloban City, one would see a few reminders of the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda. The airport is still under construction, which is normal even in the country’s international airports. There are road rehabilitation efforts everywhere, which is also a regular sight all over the country, especially whenever election season is drawing near. There are a few storm-battered buildings, which have not yet been worked on, and the remnants of a ship that ended stuck near the road. And there are the omnipresent tent materials with markings of international agencies, which some people have used as part of their patched-up houses, and the billboards announcing the sponsors of the different projects.
But if one moves around the city center, the market and the business and government centers, it’s as if the super typhoon did not hit the country last year.
However, out of sight in the outskirts of the city, the other towns and cities of Leyte, and onwards toward Samar island, one would see that majority of the people still live in bunkhouses and tents. If one gets to talk with them, one would realize that the people of Leyte and Samar are still worse off now than before Typhoon Yolanda hit the country. Eastern Visayas, most especially Samar island, has always been in the top three poorest regions and provinces in the country. And Typhoon Yolanda has made the lives of the people of Eastern Visayas even worse.
What is hampering rehabilitation efforts?
The most obvious is corruption because one could not help but ask: Where did the billions of dollars in assistance and aid go?
Second is the wrong priority of the government. Certainly, rehabilitation of infrastructures is important. It is also true that the government should exert efforts to ensure the resumption of business activity otherwise the economy would crumble.
What about the lives of the majority in Leyte and Samar?
International agencies have all these wonderful models and theories about how to go about rehabilitation efforts. There is the concept of “Build Back Better” where the people are trained as carpenters and are provided with construction materials so that they could build houses that are sturdier than what they had before, which could withstand the onslaught of storms in the future.
International agencies, and local NGOs, are supporting the recovery of livelihood assets of the people by providing them with fishing boats, seeds, farming tools, among others. They even provide trainings to improve the skills of the people and to help them manage their finances better.
They also provide health education and services, better water and sewerage systems, and support the rehabilitation of schools.
The local NGO Center for Environmental Concerns also has this blueprint for an Eco-Village, which is disaster resilient.
However, there are two essential things that the people need, which international agencies, much less local NGOs, could provide: sustainable livelihood and land.
International agencies and local NGOs could not rebuild the agriculture of the province. They do not have enough resources at their disposal to do so.
Added to this, majority of the people did not have sustainable livelihood even before Typhoon Yolanda hit the country. The level of fishing and agriculture that the people had before Yolanda could hardly provide for their families. Thus, international agencies have realized and local NGOs have known all along that simply assisting the people to recover their livelihood assets is not enough.
Joblessness has also been plaguing the country for decades.
One reason for this is the stunted economy, and agriculture, in the country. Another reason is landlessness.
The situation where the ownership of land is concentrated to a few families and the majority of the people are landless has affected not only the sustainability of agriculture as a source of livelihood for the people; it has also hampered efforts to provide housing for the people.
These problems of livelihood and land are being made even worse by the government because of its designation of “no-build zones.” There are even talks that the designation of “no-build zones” are not just for safety concerns, but to build infrastructures for the use of big foreign investors and their local partners.
The government is even militarizing communities resulting in human rights violations, more displacements and economic dislocation of the people. Among the targets of military operations are those protesting government neglect, logging and mining operations that have made the people more vulnerable to disasters.
How could the people “build back better” when they have no land on which to build their houses? How could the people acquire sustainable livelihood when those engaged in agriculture do not own the land they till and those who eke out a living through other means would be constantly displaced and thrown to remote areas where there are no livelihood opportunities? How could there be normalization in the lives of the people when they are being subjected to intensive military operations and its concomitant human rights violations?
Corruption and the wrong priorities of the government, the lack of sustainable livelihood and landlessness of the majority, and militarization are hampering rehabilitation efforts. The problem is, these have been in existence for centuries. The source of hope is, the people have never stopped fighting for these, and the devastation caused by Yolanda, and all other recent typhoons, have made the people more determined in their struggle for land, jobs, social justice and a government that truly serves the people.