Philippine typhoon victims: Will relocation be sustainable?

An ECHO humanitarian team arrives in Ormoc city to survey the damage and conduct an assessment of super typhoon Haiyan survivors. Displaced by the typhoon, the survivors are now being temporarily relocated in various parts of the country, but this poses sustainability issues. Photo by: Arlynn Aquino/EU/ECHO / CC BY-ND

Ten days after thousands of Filipinos suffered the wrath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippine government is now mulling the idea of relocating typhoon victims to safer ground to mitigate the effects of future natural calamities.

“Right now, we’re thinking of resettlement for the people especially in Tacloban. On the part of the government, we will look for relocation sites to mitigate effects if ever they happen in the future,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesperson Reynaldo Balido told Devex. “We’re looking at relocation as one of the options.”

Following the scores of deaths and billions lost in damaged properties due to the heavy rains, strong winds and a furious storm surge that engulfed the majority of Leyte’s coastal and inland municipalities, authorities are now trying to clear the area for assessment, offering people free plane and ship rides to Manila, Cebu and other cities.

This initiative, however, poses a serious dilemma — further migration can intensify the incidence of poverty in urban centers.

Around 3,000 typhoon victims have been flown to the capital’s main military air base since last week. Although this effort was aimed at providing “temporary refuge,” there is no assurance the refugees will ever want to return home, posing sustainability issues, according to Gawad Kalinga, a well-known local NGO specializing in housing and resettlement for the poor.

“We are hoping that they will eventually go back [to Leyte], but of course we don’t have certainty there,” said Gawad Kalinga partnerships head Tito Cajulis. “The case here is that, even for those who migrated to the city even before the typhoon hit, they were finding a hard time making a living in the city. They are now living in slum areas so it’s a huge risk.”

Over 50,000 families are currently displaced in the province of Cebu alone, according to data from NDRRMC, and many more are unaccounted for. Assessments are ongoing and not expected to finish anytime soon, with far-flung areas still inaccessible due to damage in infrastructure and communication lines.

Long-term plans

In the next few days, the disaster response will go from basic needs to long-term goals like providing sustainable housing and livelihood.

Moving people from one place to another does not seem like a long-term solution, but relocating them with finality to a climate-resilient place where they can find work is, said Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering.

“We can’t do band-aid solutions anymore. [We have to] identify areas [in Leyte] that are considered risky and figure out if they are still fit for development,” explained Sering. “We know people will find it hard to leave their properties despite what happened in Haiyan. But we also have to give them alternatives like giving them a new community altogether and start from there.”

The idea is that the victims will be flown in Manila, Cebu and other safe areas for “temporary settlement” until things have stabilized in Leyte. During that time, the government, along with other aid groups, will work on finding and building climate-resilient areas and structures within Leyte, while avoiding disaster-prone areas. Once these initiatives are in place, the victims will be asked to come home.

“This is to ensure that if we build, we’re going to rebuild sensibly. The solution is temporary refuge and rehabilitation to get them out of harm’s way,” said Cajulis, adding that once clearing operations are done, rehabilitation efforts will slowly begin, starting with the repairs of remaining structures in the hard-hit areas that are still fixable. That will start in about two weeks, with relocation and reconstruction happening probably by early 2014.

The relocation efforts will involve work particularly from the local governments to settle land issues where these people will permanently settle in. The structures should not only be climate-resilient, but economically viable and with potential to provide employment, livelihood and development opportunities to the people.

“The most important thing is for peace and order to come back. Second is for the economic support systems to be in place so if people are there, they have livelihood or economic opportunities,” noted Cajulis. “They have to have the feeling that they have something to go back to.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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