One year after Haiyan – “I just want a house that is safe”

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, people in the Philippines on November 8th remembered their lost loved ones during ceremonies throughout the affected areas. They remembered the dead, celebrated the will to survive, and they criticised their government. The ACT Alliance has accompanied the people of the Philippines since well before the storm, and its response to the disaster has reached some one million people. But construction of new homes for survivors has been challenging because of difficulties in obtaining land in safe locations.

On November 8th, one year after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged a wide swath of the southern Philippines, ACT Alliance members participated in events in Tacloban, the city worst hit by the storm. A commemorative walk set out at dawn, the same hour as the unheralded storm surge destroyed 90 percent of the city. The event gathered thousands of walkers representing many neighborhood groups as well as local and international NGOs.

The walkers, including a contingent of some 60 representatives from ten ACT Alliance members working in the Philippines, slowly made their way through Tacloban. They walked along the seashore past people still living in shelters assembled from debris, and continued to the center of the city, which once again bustles with commerce.

”Thumbs up for NGOs and thumbs down for the government,” said Emmanuel Sarssalejo from the nearby town of Palo. He said he joined the walk to celebrate his family’s survival.

At the same time, thousands of participants in a Climate Walk approached Tacloban from the east, concluding a 40-day 1,000-kilometer walk from Manila to demand greater action by governments to address climate issues which make people in areas of the Philippines and other nations more vulnerable to natural threats.

Need for assistance remains huge

Many Filipinos here are dissatisfied with what they perceive as their government’s sluggishness in providing assistance to the survivors of Haiyan, which was known locally as Yolanda. One year on, 25,000 people still live in tents, many now covered with mold. No one knows exactly how many people live in makeshift shelters in high-risk areas. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, that number is half a million.

Haiyan left some 4 million people homeless, most of them poor families who did not own the land they lived on.  The question of land security is still unsolved. Without title to the land or assurance they can remain living on rented land, even families with semi-permanent houses remain vulnerable.

“The needs for assistance remain huge. For us this means we need to work harder to speed up the construction of shelters, and to develop livelihood activities that are sustainable,” said Minnie Anne Calub, the emergency manager for the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, a member of the ACT Alliance.

“We also have to support and accompany the people as they push the government to live up to its promise of a comprehensive reconstruction and recovery program,” she said.

More funding for disaster preparedness

A disaster-prone nation, the Philippines has an average of 20 typhoons per year, with five of them causing serous damages. Floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions also cause havoc. The string of 7,000 islands has become a poster child for climate change.

ACT Alliance General Secretary John Nduna, who visited the affected areas for the one-year anniversary, said more funding will be needed for disaster preparedness and mitigation. ACT Alliance members are assisting many communities to better assess their risks, vulnerabilities and capacities, and to develop disaster preparedness and response plans.

In a speech at the November 8th unveiling of a Yolanda commemorative plaque in Samar province where the ACT Alliance has had a major role in recovery efforts, Nduna compared the current situation with what he saw during his first visit last February. “I am amazed at how much has been done,” he said. “These are achievements of the people and communities themselves. NGOs are just here to assist. It’s the resiliency of the survivors that has brought this region back from desperation and despair.”

Nduna also said that the ACT Alliance is committed to remain in the Philippines.

“We want to see that the recovery is complete and that human dignity is respected,” he said.

Many ACT Alliance members also participated in a commemorative act on the small island of Jinamoc, some ten kilometers from Tacloban. As darkness fell, residents set floating candles on the sea to remember the 55 dead or missing from the island.

“I feel sad. After our suffering, we just want a house that is safe,” said Analyn Azura Banogon as she watched the candles float away. Soon she and her family will be move into a new storm-resistant house on a hill in the middle of the island, a house constructed with assistance from the ACT Alliance.

Text and photo: Ulla Kärki