Nowhere to run

Most makeshift shelters constructed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan aren't durable enough to withstand a storm. Photo by: Veejay Villafranca / IFRC

Millions of Filipinos whose lives were shattered by the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan six months ago are facing another deadly storm season.

Haiyan was one of the most destructive storms on record. By the time it had passed through the heart of the island nation, more than 1 million homes lay in ruins — eight times more than after the 2004 tsunami that struck the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Within days of the storm, the Philippine government turned to the humanitarian community for assistance. With shelter one of the top priorities, the government asked for support to provide 500,000 households with emergency shelter assistance. To this day, shelter remains a significant part of the coordinated international response that complements the government’s rehabilitation and recovery plan.

Within a week after the storm, the organizations that together form the Shelter Cluster had distributed tarpaulins, blankets, mats and cooking sets to 35,000 of the worst-affected families. In just a few months, their combined efforts had distributed 560,000 tarpaulins, tents and associated “nonfood items” to 2.7 million vulnerable people. Since then, a further 120,000 shelter “self-recovery kits,” together with the know-how to “build back safer” have been distributed.

Despite these achievements, the Shelter Cluster is increasingly concerned by the imminent start of this year’s typhoon season and the deadly threat it poses to the population, more than 100,000 of whom are still living in tents. While the vast majority of repaired or newly constructed homes can keep a family dry, most of these houses and shelters will not be able to withstand a storm as they have been nailed together using corroded iron sheeting, torn tarpaulins and rotten coconut lumber.

Close to 500,000 people — a group the size of the population of the British city of Manchester — have no option but to build these makeshift shelters where they are, many being right on the sea shore with no protection from storms or floods. Aid agencies must be allowed to offer more robust temporary support, and provide good quality re-usable materials until lasting solutions are found. These need to be based on the risks the survivors face and have their informed consent.

Wardell Eastwood, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies shelter coordinator for the Haiyan operation, discusses the features of a durable house that could offer greater protection from typhoons.

With the imminent start of the next typhoon season, this lack of durable shelter is shaping up to be a major humanitarian crisis.

To make things worse, 90 percent of all evacuation centers in some coastal areas are still unusable because of the damage they suffered from Typhoon Haiyan. This means people have nowhere to take refuge when the next storm comes — and the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 significant storms each year.

An added concern is that we are struggling to attract the funding we need to support the recovery of 500,000 households.

The emergency shelter budget, at $178 million, is the second-largest budget component — after food security and agriculture — of the strategic response plan developed by the interagency humanitarian country team. But the Shelter Cluster will be lucky to meet 45 percent of that target by the onset of the typhoon season.

We’re doing as much as we can to give families the support and advice they need to build back safer. But a whole lot more remains to be done if we are to protect the Filipino people from what comes next.

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About the author

  • James shepherd barron profile

    James Shepherd-Barron

    James Shepherd-Barron is a disaster management consultant and disaster epidemiologist who has spent the past 22 years advising governments and international aid agencies on how to reduce the risk posed by natural hazards like floods, earthquakes and cholera epidemics, and how to coordinate response operations when all else has failed and catastrophe has ensued. He is currently the Shelter Cluster Coordinator in the Philippines, helping manage the response to Typhoon Haiyan.

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