By BENJIE OLIVEROS
If you live in Manila, you most probably have not read any article during the last few months about the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). Of course, almost three years have passed since that fateful day of November 8, 2013. The affected communities in Leyte should have recovered by now, right? After all, a visit to busy Tacloban City, where thousands died, gives the impression that the destruction, hunger, and poverty the typhoon caused are all things of the past. If ever, articles that would be written about it come November would be about remembering the deceased and the annual campaign of People Surge, the organization of the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, who have been demanding for a continuation of assistance and for holding the former Aquino administration accountable for its criminal negligence.
But a visit to the rural areas of Leyte and Biliran would reveal otherwise. I have visited communities in Biliran and was shocked when they still talk about the destruction and poverty that Typhoon Yolanda brought to their lives. It’s as if it happened just last year. Yes, the physical traces of the destruction are few, even in Tacloban City where a few buildings that were no longer repaired or rebuilt serve as grim reminders of the massive destruction that befell this city.
Yes, they said, their houses have been rebuilt and the debris had been cleaned. But sources of livelihood are still hard to come by. The coconut trees, which used to be one of the main sources of livelihood, are still too young. Not all received fishing boats to replace those that were destroyed. The poorest of the poor in rural areas have been catching fish near the shore with their bare hands.
There are families who are still dependent on road projects under the cash for work program. There have been trainings on alternative sources of livelihood such as handicraft making, but there has been no marketing support. The people do plant rice and vegetables but their harvest are barely enough for their family’s consumption.
An estimated 5.9 million people lost their sources of livelihood. And most of those severely affected live in the margins of Philippine society, because they have been poor even before Typhoon Yolanda struck. The destruction caused by Typhoon Yolanda merely aggravated their poverty. It would take more than three years to enable them to recover to their poverty conditions before the storm. For example, coconut trees take six to 10 years before bearing their first fruit, and 15 to 20 years to reach peak production. In the meantime, what will be the main source of livelihood of the people?
The public should not forget that those affected have not yet fully recovered. And attaining full recovery would not yet even uplift them from conditions of poverty. So the support for the victims should not stop. We should remind the government that the task of recovery has not yet been completed and it should still devote programs and resources to this task. And it should likewise hold accountable the previous Aquino administration and ask them where the billions of dollars in aid went.
If there is ONE issue that could veritably crucify BS Aquino today, it would be post-Yolanda rehabilitation. The disaster is fairly recent in memory to revive interest. The international organizations and governments that provided support need some feedback. Indeed, where did those billions of dollars in aid go? It can’t possibly be that the second-rate roads being built and coconut saplings planted all cost that much.