Home Equality & Justice Rebuilding efforts fall short for many survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan

Rebuilding efforts fall short for many survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan

Every year, for the past six years, Lita Bagunas has been coming out in the streets to protest. She calls for decent homes for survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines.

Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded. It left at least 6,300 people dead and about 11 million Filipinos affected, many of whom became homeless.

On Nov. 7, anniversary of Haiyan’s landfall, Bagunas, a 56-year old mother of four, led about 400 farmers and fishermen for a demonstration in Tacloban, Haiyan’s ground zero.

The demonstrators called on the government to investigate and prosecute government officials who allegedly implemented an anomalous housing program for typhoon survivors.

Rights activist Danny Carranza said the people were demanding “accountability” so that a “people-centered rehabilitation and reconstruction” will be implemented.

“Promises that have yet to be fulfilled will continue to inspire such actions from survivors,” said Carranza.

As of July this year, the government’s National Housing Authority only finished 119,670 units from the targeted 205,128 housing units for Haiyan survivors across the country.

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Of this number, 56,877 are already occupied while 62,793 housing units are ready for occupancy.

The housing agency reported that it aims to finish at least 62,668 housing units between 2019 and 2020.

A cargo vessel that was swept ashore at the height of Super Typhoon Haiyan has been turned into a memorial for victims of the 2013 disaster. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Fara Gamalo, of the group Freedom from Debt Coalition, said the government only “wasted” funds intended for the housing projects because of anomalies that continue to this day.

He claimed that the unoccupied housing units already cost about 15 billion pesos, or about US$295 million.

Imelda Tacalan, from the town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar province, said she already lost hope of owning a safe and decent house.

Tacalan and several other recipients of the government’s housing project have already served a “notice of refusal” to occupy the units assigned to them.

She said that, aside from being “substandard,” the houses also cost too much.

“It is six years now, most of the people have already rebuilt their shattered lives without the houses promised to them,” said Tacalan, a mother of nine.

She lamented, however, that the pain and loss suffered by the people have been capitalized by some officials who are “greedy, rapacious, and without conscience.”

Tacalan and her neighbors have already filed a complaint against the government officials, including those who have not taken any action to take steps to protect the interest of the government.

Pascualito Ilagan, spokesman of the group Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), said “plenty of anomalies” happened in the reconstruction program for disaster-affected communities.

“And the biggest of them all is the housing,” he said.

Formed in 2016 by close to 200 non-government groups, CYSP exposed the “anomalies” in the housing projects while engaging with government agencies in the reconstruction process.

Ilagan said many typhoon survivors refuse to relocate to the housing projects because many are “substandard” and have no basic facilities and are far from the people’ source of living.

“The post-Haiyan recovery phase should have been used by the government to reduce exposure and vulnerability of the poor communities and build back resilient and sustainable buildings,” he said.

Family members of those who died in the height of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 offer flowers and candles during the anniversary of the disaster. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Ilagan said pressuring the communities into even more unstable and unsafe situation “will push them more and more into poverty and vulnerability.”

“People may have recovered from the onslaught of Haiyan, but we still continue to struggle from the negligence of this government,” said Christopher Durana, spokesman of urban poor group Kadamay.

He said displaced families in Tacloban continue to cry for justice and accountability especially under heightened demolition threats and the still stagnant Haiyan housing projects.

Professor Efleda Bautista, head of another typhoon survivor group People Surge, said the 2013 disaster “was made worse by government neglect and corruption.”

“Contrary to the Philippine government’s claim that rehabilitation efforts for disaster survivors are undergoing a fast progress, thousands upon thousands of victims still suffer from undelivered outputs from the government, both national and local,” she said.

Activist Carranza said what the people found six years after Haiyan, and more than three years after the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, was “profoundly disappointing.”

In 2016, Duterte criticized the pace of recovery work in typhoon-hit areas. “I am not satisfied,” said the newly-elected president.

After three years, however, nothing seems to have happened.

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