Beyond plywood and floor measurements

Erick Crisologo
If Yolanda-affected families are not able to build back their own homes, they have to live in this communal world filled with vulnerabilities

All over the world, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) left her mark. In the Philippines, we saw in her wake the devastated communities which lost billions worth of property. Lives were broken, and there are losses in this that can’t ever be quantified.

Yet here and in foreign nations we saw the flow of aid and donations. After all the things that made the world awful  the wars, the poverty, and the extinctions both natural and moral  humanity somehow redeemed itself, at least partly, when we showed that we cared.

It doesn’t end there.

After the storm, it’s now about rehabilitation for the individuals and families affected. It’s also never too late to be drawing up plans so we’re better prepared for disasters in the future. It’s now about building back; better if we can.

Bunkhouses

One of the biggest issues right now is the construction of bunkhouses, which have been called “substandard” by Architect Felino Palafox. There are pictures of these bunkhouses and their specifications: 8.64 square meters, plywood walls, galvanized roofs, a window and a door.

Palafox criticizes that the bunkhouses are too small and are not livable for people. He says that, according to international standards, it should be at least 21 square meters for a family of five. The design itself, with 2 slope roofs instead of 4, makes the structures vulnerable to strong winds if ever another storm hits the place.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson says that the bunkhouses are temporary and they’re not bound by international standards. How temporary? We’re not really sure, but he says that it will be around 2 years before the construction of all bunkhouses will be finished. 

Compared to the makeshift tents and tarps, the bunkhouses are relatively more tolerable. But should we, without the consideration of other strategies, simply expect the people to choose a lesser evil? (READ about the ‘Kickbacks on Haiyan bunkhouses)

NO SHELTER. A Yolanda survivor prepares her family's meal in a tent serving as temporary shelter in Tacloban City. Photo by Ted Aljibe/ Agence France-Presse

There is a common bathroom for 24 bunkhouses, and therefore, for 24 families.

For 2 years, if these families are not able to build back their own homes, they have to live with in this communal world filled with vulnerabilities.

A lot can happen in two years.

Gender issues

In times of disaster and rehabilitation, people’s lives immediately shift into a new dynamic. Daily habits have to adjust to the availability and lack of resources to keep on living. A common bathroom might not seem like the worst thing in a landscape of loss (at least there’s a bathroom) but imagine having the need to go there at midnight. There is no electricity and you carry a lamp to light your path, and along the way you are grabbed by someone in the dark.

You are smothered by a dirty hand over your mouth, and in a few, slow moments, you realize that you are being raped. You try to scream, and everything happens in pitch black darkness. You go back to your house, possibly irreparably damaged by the ordeal.

The occurrence of rape isn’t just a theoretical event that can happen, but it’s a form vulnerability that has manifested many times over in post-disaster areas in the Philippines. Women and children are especially vulnerable, but chances are that men have also been raped too. (Read: [DASH of SAS] Sex, intimacy and the RH law in the time of Yolanda)

There are no public reports yet of rape or increased frequencies of rape in post-Yolanda rehabilitation areas. But it does not mean that it won’t ever happen, or that it eliminates its present probability.

A terrifying quality of abuse is that it is rarely made public because many of the abused choose to keep silent. The revelation of rape can lead to the further disempowerment of the raped, when the very label of “victim” makes the victimization all too powerful and real.

Children are the most vulnerable because they often do not understand the motivations and nature of abuse. Even now, in poor communities around the Philippines, such as those of informal settlers around dump sites and poor villages, the lack of security and social protection inherent to poverty has made rapes occur more frequently than in communities with decent or adequate living conditions. (Read: PH gov’t on guard vs child trafficking)

A lot of cases of statutory rape happen in domestic environments and many are incestuous, with an older, usually male, relative, molesting and abusing a younger member of the family. Domestic violence and spousal rape also happen in conditions like this.

Architect Palafox has also said the structures should address gender-oriented issues, like having separate rooms for male and female members of the family. The structural integrity also carries obvious implications of the level of security expected for the families.

Human trafficking

Another issue of vulnerability hinged on gender and age is human trafficking, which again concern mostly women and children. The threat of this has been cited by Plan International, a United Kingdom-based charity currently involved in post-Yolanda operations. Samar, in particular, has been cited as one area where this has frequently occurred – even before the supertyphoon hit.

Like many people who talk about this issue, a lot of the information I am getting is from social media, the news and accounts from some close friends and co-workers, some of whom have families affected by the typhoon or are working on the ground in the rehabilitation process.

I have not been to Tacloban, before or after its desolation. I have not seen the controversial bunkhouses in person; I haven’t looked into the eyes of the people who lost their homes, or smelled the decay in the streets a few days after the storm. I didn’t see that precise moment when a father was shot, when food was stolen, and when things became really desperate. I was not there when a child or a woman was raped in the night and couldn’t talk about it in the morning.

But these things did or can happen, whether or not you and I will ever see them as they do. We can’t go back to the way things were because people were vulnerable even before the typhoon hit.

It’s now not just an issue of criticizing the physicalities of the rehabilitation process; the thickness of the plywood or the steel roof, but to socially develop the broken communities as well. This comes with the acknowledgement of vulnerabilities in its different forms, and the masks under which they can be hidden.

It’s time to build safe communities and homes, not just houses. – Rappler.com


Erick Crisologo works as a writer and researcher for Social Watch Philippines and Prof. Leonor Magtolis Briones. He is the Secretary of the Philippine Youth Development Initiatives, Inc., a civil society organization devoted to youth empowerment. He is currently finishing his degree in BS Tourism in the Asian Institute of Tourism at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

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