On the road to recovery

Children smile at the camera in Tacloban, one of the areas hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan. What’s life like now in places devastated by the tropical cyclone? Photo by: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

A year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Eastern Visayas region in the Philippines, life seems to have returned to its normal pace.

In Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit areas, traffic jams are back, small grocery stores and stalls have reopened next to fast food chains, major infrastructure, buildings and roads are being rehabilitated. However, at nights you still get this eerie feeling walking on the dark streets where stray dogs sleep next to piles of cartons and rotten vegetables. Electricity has only been restored to about 40 percent in the city.

The road to recovery is not an easy one and the scars of the disaster are still vivid.

Haiyan wreaked havoc through one of the poorest areas in the Philippines, pushing families deeper into poverty and making them more vulnerable to the next disaster. In rural areas, where people mainly depend on fishing or coconut farming to survive, 33 million coconut trees were destroyed by the storm. Fishermen were left with no income as their boats were flushed away during the storm surge.

Immediately after the disaster, some 1.1 million houses have been either destroyed or damaged in the Tacloban area, leading to about four million people being displaced. Families were forced to live in tents in dangerous zones or in makeshift shelters and in cramped bunkhouses waiting to be relocated. Today only some 25,000 people still remain there, but they all have to endure overcrowding and inadequate sanitation. And under the searing tropical heat, temperatures are so high inside those shelters that families, including children and the elderly, have to stay outside to bear with the heat and humidity.

The initial response to the typhoon — as the international aid effort ramped up was a success — saw no major epidemics, no widespread breakdown in law and order and enough supplies of emergency food. The collaborative efforts of the government and the international development community have helped mobilize recovery. But it is the resilience of the people that stands out. For survivors, regaining their livelihood and their lives has been equally important. People were fast to rebuild their homes using scrap materials and donations from the aid organizations. There was acceptance and a strong will to move forward.

As we mark the first anniversary of the disaster, rebuilding has reached a critical stage. Still today, up to 1 million people continue to live in areas that are deemed unsafe if a new typhoon hits, while some 100,000 families continue to live in emergency or makeshift shelters. Although they don’t have immediate humanitarian needs, all those families need to relocate in houses built on ground that is not vulnerable to storm surges and landslides. They need accommodation that can withstand wind speeds similar to those of Haiyan, if a new disaster happens. However, finding land to build those houses is emerging as a major issue. Reconstruction is being hampered by administrative delays and the long-simmering issue of land rights.

Haiyan has affected almost 6 million workers, almost half of which were earning an average of $1 a day and were living in poor conditions in informal settlements or shantytowns prior to the disaster. Farmers face years of lost incomes and fishermen, reliant on the sea or the mangroves to earn a living, are threatened possible relocation from their main source of survival. Rebuilding their livelihoods is a challenge but it is also an opportunity to stimulate local economy with long-lasting and targeted interventions. Recovery comes through the resilience of the affected people, proper assistance and government commitment and resources. It is essential to invest in the local workforce within the local structures; to provide training and support to develop business; to build partnerships with the private sector that has a key role to play in the recovery and has the capacity to create jobs and generate income.

Aid changes as needs change. Bridging the gap between humanitarian aid and long-term development through effective recovery response is crucial to help people rebuild their lives, secure jobs and livelihoods and plan their future.

However, the shift from humanitarian to development requires planning that should begin already in the early stages of the response, especially in a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan in which national capacities and resilience have mobilized fast recovery. The successes of the humanitarian phase are being reinforced during the recovery phase that now, despite the initial delays, is on track. It would have been more coherent, though, and it would have helped build a momentum much earlier if its framework was already in place.

Despite the significant improvements over the last year, the level of vulnerabilities remains very high today. In some areas, those vulnerabilities have even increased. In order to ensure long-lasting recovery, targeted interventions and development assistance is required in the areas of housing, livelihood and disaster preparedness and risk reduction.

If a continued and sustained effort is not made in these areas, the humanitarian gains might be lost, and we will see a re-emergence of humanitarian needs on an increased scale. That is why the United Nations and NGO partners will continue to support government efforts in the next phase of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

Super Typhoon Haiyan left a wake of devastation when it swept through the central Philippines on Nov. 8. How has the situation in the worst-hit provinces changed one year after? Devex is in Tacloban to give you the latest news and analysis from ground zero. Stay tuned for more coverage.

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About the author

  • Kasper engborg profile

    Kasper Engborg

    Kasper Engborg is currently the head of OCHA in Tacloban, Philippines, which has been the regional hub for coordinating support in response Typhoon Haiyan. He has more than 18 years of international humanitarian and development experience in interagency coordination and programming in chronic and complex emergencies, natural disasters and post-conflict settings. Engborg has also worked with UNHCR, UNICEF and the Danish Red Cross, and in several countries including Eritrea, Georgia, Laos, Kosovo, Palestinian territories, Malawi, Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, North Korea and the Philippines.