Driving through the town of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, street lights lit up the shop fronts and the soft beat of a radio wafted through the air. Smiling people strolled through the evening hustle and bustle seemingly without a care in the world. The scene was a far cry from what I was expecting.
Nov. 8 marked a year since Typhoon Haiyan — one of the strongest storms ever recorded — hit the Philippines. Some 14 million people were affected, including 4 million forced to flee their homes. A total of 6,200 people lost their lives.
The last time I was in Guiuan was in the immediate aftermath when I was traveling with our emergency response team. There was no electricity, except for a handful of generators. Rubble and debris was strewn through the streets and a damp, festering smell lingered in the air.
Once dark, drab and brown, now the roadsides are full of lush green plants blocking the view from the car as we drove this week from community to community. Coconut trees, left snapped like twigs by Haiyan, are now covered in huge leaves. People’s belongings — books, soft toys, food mixers — were once intermingled with brown, damp leaves, sand and remnants of their homes. Now the white sands and clear blue sea are a joy to behold.
Yet, although on the surface it may look like people are getting back to how it was before, delve deeper and it’s a different story. Some 95 percent of all the coconut trees were destroyed, leaving those who rely on them to make a living wondering how they’ll make ends meet. Newly planted replacements will not bear fruit for up to ten years.
Immediately after Haiyan, Christian Aid’s partner organizations reached more than 180,000 people with supplies of food, clean drinking water, blankets and shelter materials. Since then, they have provided vegetable seeds and tools too, giving families the means to grow essential food to eat and sell surplus to people in their communities for a little income.
Fifty-one year old Malou Pa Esmena beamed with pride when she showed me her aubergine plant.
See more news on Haiyan recovery and rehabilitation:
● 'We're recovering but we still need your help' — Haiyan survivors
● One year after Haiyan: Reflections on Tacloban
● 3 essential qualities for doing aid work in disaster situations
● Lessons learned a year after Haiyan: The 5 C's
● Difficulties (and opportunities) in recovery
“Look what I’ve managed to grow,” she said. “Before I was just a housewife, while my husband made copra (dried coconut). Now I’m able to make something too by growing food for us to eat, which is great as we have a lot less money after Haiyan.”
Fishing nets have also been provided to replace those destroyed by the typhoon, enabling people to catch fresh fish for their dinner tables.
But the psychological impact of Haiyan also lingers, with many people now fearful of heavy rain and big waves. Even some fishermen now avoid taking to the sea when it is rough.
Fishing is seasonal from May until August. Without coconuts to fall back out of season, some men say they may have no choice but to move to a city — even as far as the capital Manila — to find work.
“We have no option,” said Eddie Sagales, a 51-year-old carpenter. “So many people have lost their jobs, they don’t have money to pay me to work for them. I have no option — I have to go elsewhere to provide for my family.”
This message was one I met throughout the area — what will they do when the aid groups’ cash-for-work programs stop, as they inevitably will?
We are currently looking at people’s skills throughout the area and investigating what kind of jobs will support communities in the long term, providing a means to earn enough money for their families to survive without being forced to leave their communities behind.
Although once again a tranquil and beautiful setting, the huge cost of the typhoon is still apparent. It will be years before these communities get back to how they were before the typhoon. Christian Aid and its local partners are working hard to make sure this happens sooner rather than later.
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