The Yolanda effect

Yoly Villanueva-Ong
The Yolanda effect
The comparison between Basey and Tacloban is a tale of two cities. One rose from the rubble, the other is still deep in muck.

Three hundred sixty-five days after the strongest typhoon ever recorded obliterated Leyte, Samar and other provinces, the dyads of heroism and villainy; despair and resilience; sagacity and idiocy; devastation and recovery are themes that continue to define the after-effect. 

With apologies to Charles Dickens and the immortal classic, A Tale of Two Cities, nothing captures the emotions and thoughts of post-Yolanda better than words written in Year 1859.  

It was the worst of times.

Haiyan was the worst catastrophe of all time, leaving 7,200 people dead or missing. Almost ninety percent of Tacloban was wiped out. Up to 16 million people were affected, among them 4 million who were displaced. 1.1 million homes were wrecked.

At present, the United Nations estimates that about 95,000 households or 475,000 Filipinos are living in hazardous makeshift shelters. They are highly exposed because of their inability to recover without external help.

It was the best of times.

The world showed kindness as relief poured in almost instantly a few days after the tragedy. Private sector initiatives amounted to over P12.9 Billion as monitored by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR). The international community responded generously in cash and kind. 

The Aquino government launched the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FaiTH), an online portal to monitor and publicize received and/or pledged foreign aid. To date, FAiTH has reported that the total amount of foreign aid pledged is at P73,307,438,834.36 or $1,643,038,277.66.

UN has received US$ 845 million in donations. Private individuals and organizations have generously given $190 million. The United Kingdom donated $123 million.

It was the age of foolishness.

Dr Doracie Zoleta-Nantes, a research fellow in resources, environment and development from the Australian National University surveyed residents in Tacloban, which had the most number of casualties. She found out that the 221,000 residents “were not given sufficient information or logistical support to move to higher and safer ground.”

She added: “Elected government officials only opt for relief distribution immediately after disaster events… relief offers more photo opportunities, which I have personally witnessed, as politicians distribute bags of food and relief with their faces printed on them.”

The harsh commentary is credible as we recall that Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez himself was caught by the super typhoon at his resthouse by the coast. Interviewed later, he said among others, that he did not understand what a “storm surge” meant. 

It was the age of wisdom.

One year later the Philippine government has approved a master plan to rebuild the devastated areas. The recovery plan is based on the principle of “build back better.” The six-year plan needs $3.8 billion in funds to construct 205,000 permanent homes for about 4 million people and provide more sustainable jobs for the 2.6 Filipinos living below the poverty line.

It was the epoch of incredulity.

Romualdez claims only 100 of 14,500 promised permanent homes have been built. He also said 3,000 people were still living in danger zones, including many in tents. 

In recent harangues, the mayor seemed incoherent. “Bakit natin minamadali ‘yung turnover kung lahat ‘yan hindi pa naman tapos, ‘yung 100?… Pangalawa, mas¬yado nang epal ito e. Sa dami-dami, ‘pag natapos ang sampu pwede ba i-turnover na natin

Did he want the turnover of homes to be in tens or hundreds? Faster or slower?

It was the epoch of belief

About 75.6 billion pesos is earmarked for new townships where the rebuilt homes would be able to withstand winds up to 250 kph. 

Although the government has released about P51.9 billion to start the recovery work, only 450 homes were ready for turnover to displaced families by the first anniversary. 

It was the season of Darkness.

Bureaucracy, unavailability of safe and appropriate resettlement land, lack of resources and petty political squabbles were cited as the main reasons for the slow pace of rehabilitation.

It was the season of Light.

According to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., 30% of the 25,000 projects will be finished by end-2014. Half of these projects will be undertaken next year, while the remaining 20 percent will be done by 2016.

It was the winter of despair.

Some survivors have lost patience, if not faith. In one TV interview, survivor Lacandazo of Palo, Leyte, who lost 22 relatives in the tragedy, said: “Hindi na ako umaasa (sa tulong mula sa gobyerno), dapat noon pa. Kung magbibigay ng tulong ang gobyerno, inasikaso na dapat noon pa…”

It was the spring of hope.

Climate Commissioner Naderev “Yeb” Saño, the country’s chief climate negotiator, organized the Climate Walk as a “tribute to those confronting the impact of climate change, especially the most vulnerable.” Governments will meet in Paris next year to agree a pact. He hopes that the walk underscores the urgency of forging a new global deal that “responds to the latest science and prevents further dangerous climate change.” 

We had nothing before us.

In Tacloban, protesters led by a group called People Surge burned an effigy of President Aquino, demanded his resignation and accused his administration of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

OPARR Secretary Lacson called the group “communist pawns” out to agitate the people and discredit the government. Some Leyteños like Toby Amara Jr. agree. “… I believe there is another group behind those protesters… these individuals came to Manila to protest even though their dire condition and sufferings are far from over. How could they afford the travel expenses and sustain their stay here?” 

We had everything before us.

At his anniversary visit to Samar, PNoy announced the building of more than 205,000 permanent homes for displaced families. He also unveiled the plan to relocate the Tacloban airport from the coastline citing safety reasons, a move bitterly opposed by Romualdez.  

Also in Samar, Philippine fashion company Banago, has doubled its workforce to about 1,000 weavers. Basey’s women weavers are cited the most resilient and industrious. They weave bags and home accessories from tikog reed. Their production facility was washed away but they restarted their business a few months after they rebuilt their homes. The Banago range is a top seller at high-end retail stores.

We were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

The comparison between Basey and Tacloban is a tale of two cities. One rose from the rubble, the other is still deep in muck. 

The truth is salvation from any adversity, depends only on one thing: OURSELVES. – 

(Sources: Reuters, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council)

For Rappler’s full coverage of the 1st anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), go to this page.







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