Yolanda survivors after 6 months: Homeless, jobless, hungry

Fritzie Rodriguez

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After Yolanda, the Philippines is running out of safe and usable evacuation centers for future emergencies
HOMELESS. IOM and DSWD report that only 8% of the evacuation centers in Eastern Samar are usable after Typhoon Yolanda. File photo by Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children MANILA, Philippines – Almost 6 months after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged the Visayas, the lack of adequate housing still remains one of the biggest challenges faced by over 200,000 Yolanda survivors and, most likely, by soon-to-be survivors of future calamities. This problem is further intensified by the lack of reliable evacuation centers (ECs). According to a joint assessment by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), only 8% (53 out of 634) of the evacuation centers in the 10 most affected municipalities in Samar Island is usable in case a new typhoon strikes. Over 400 ECs were substantially damaged and unusable because of Yolanda, while 166 ECs were completely destroyed as of April 2014. Where would people go when the next typhoon strikes?   “As witnessed by the smaller typhoons of early 2014, the number of people needing to evacuate to public shelters has dramatically increased compared to before Haiyan, but at the same time the vast majority of those shelters are no longer usable,” DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said in a press statement. As new typhoons will soon threaten the country, Filipinos might carry the same burdens left by Yolanda. Without proper intervention, families – especially those in coastal areas – may once again lose their loved ones, homes, possessions, and the chance to live normal lives. (READ: A Haiyan widow) Survivors’ health may also suffer since many ECs are overcrowded and hence, become breeding grounds for spreading diseases under unsanitary conditions. (READ: Organize for survival) And as climate change continues to threaten us – not only our environment, but also our food security, economy, livelihood, health and safety – there is a greater need to improve our disaster preparedness and response. (READ: Next steps on climate change) Evacuation centers HOMELESS SURVIVORS. Up to 130,000 Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors still live in tents as of April 2014, the government says. File photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler The IOM advised the Philippine government to “begin immediate construction or rehabilitation of safe evacuation centers,” especially in the most “typhoon-vulnerable” parts of the country. (READ: Yolanda survivors still in tents) Most of the designated ECs in Eastern Samar are social infrastructures like schools, day care centers, municipal or barangay halls, multi-purpose halls, churches and health centers. Private residences also make up 1% of all designated ECs. Most, if not all, of them are now in bad shape. (READ: Require construction of evacuation centers) “The government, IOM and some other actors are rehabilitating and reconstructing some of these buildings, but the scale and speed of this work needs to increase dramatically,” Soliman said. The municipality of Salcedo had the most number of designated ECs, but Guiuan had the most number of evacuees per center even though it had the least number of ECs.


Number of designated ECs

Average number of persons per designated EC







IOM described the damages to ECs as “catastrophic,” and pointed the following factors which contributed to the collapse of many ECS and in turn, numerous deaths: Evacuation centers are supposed to keep people safe. Unfortunately, not all evacuees end up surviving. In the Guiuan gymnasium, 6 people died due to falling debris. The gymnasium’s roof structure was totally damaged, trusses were bent, beams, windows and doors were destroyed, and walls have either cracked or fallen. IOM recommended the construction of new “storm-resilient” buildings, rather than repairing the remaining structures. “The results of this assessment show how crucial it is for IOM to prioritize disaster risk reduction and preparedness systems in high-risk areas, including the strengthening of typhoon evacuation systems,” Marco Boasso, IOM Chief of Mission in the Philippines, said in a press statement. “This is how we can best support the government and the general population. Right now, even something half the strength of Haiyan would have a massive impact,” Boasso added. Not just housing Aside from housing, Filipinos experience other serious yet preventable and solvable problems before, during and after disasters. One of which is environmental degredation. IOM cited the lack of trees as one of the factors leaving more people vulnerable to calamities. Trees help mitigate the effects of high winds as well as flooding. However, with more people caring less for the environment, calamities are expected to have bigger impacts on all of us. (READ: Awakening consciousness amid climate change) Community recovery among disaster-hit areas is also slowed down by the loss of livelihoods of over 6 million people.  Oxfam, an international development organization, warned that resettlement efforts would fail unless Yolanda survivors are given proper jobs.  “The government has committed to the principle of ‘building back better’ but it has yet to prove that through its relocation efforts. Relocation is not only about houses. It’s also about jobs, safety, and transport. These cannot be afterthoughts,” Oxfam country director Justin Morgan explained. Be safe or be hungry? FAR FROM JOBS. Oxfam said that some of the relocated survivors complain that their new homes are too far from coastal areas, where most of them work. File photo by Ken Lagarde Oxfam said that  the fisherfolks, laborers, and vendors are most affected by the government’s relocation plans. Nearly half (49%) of the 453 respondents surveyed by Oxfam argued that the government should consider their livelihood opporunties before being relocated. “Millions of pesos will be spent on relocation. If this process is not done well – everyone loses. Families are being forced to choose between safety and putting food on the table. The government also risks wasting valuable funds that could really make a difference to the lives of poor people,” Morgan added. Some relocation sites are too far from the coast, where most of the people worked. Since transportation costs are high, many opt against relocating. Although they worry about the dangers of living so close to the sea, these families also worry about putting food on their plates. In the end, they are not given much choice. Oxfam reported that most people were either uninformed of the government’s relocation plans or unaware of their rights. 1 out of 3 people said that they agreed to the relocation only because they felt that they had no other choice. “Previous disaster responses have shown that when people aren’t consulted, plans don’t match their needs and they will either leave the relocated areas or become poorer,” Morgan argued.  In the meantime, life goes on for Yolanda survivors, but with many uncertainties hounding their backs.

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