A continuing tragedy

Published November 13, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Five years after Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) with its storm surge ravaged and obliterated vast areas in the Visayas, many survivors are still desperate, angry, and frustrated mainly over rebuilding efforts that leave much to be desired.

Of the 205,128 houses needed for the typhoon victims, only 84, 295 or 41% have been built so far, according to a report of the Commission on Audit released last August. And only 34% or 28,395 of the houses built have been occupied. The low occupancy is said to be due to various reasons which include “lack of basic facilities, incomplete structural components and construction defects.”

And of the houses occupied, many are subjects of complaints. A news report quoted a disgruntled occupant who said her house “has been built with material so flimsy that a slight punch can make a hole through the wall that connects it to the next house in the row.”

Also, the sites where the houses stand are not well-planned. “When it rains, the relocation sites get flooded, and on sunny days, the heat is unbearable,” says one of the founders of People Surge, the grassroots organization of typhoon survivors. “It’s like being hit again by Yolanda. There is no day that they don’t fear for their lives and the lives of their children.”

What happened on Nov. 8, 2013 was so devastating indeed. A World Bank report released last year showed a grim picture of the devastation: Apart from the more than 6,300 people killed, 28, 000 injured, and around 1,000 missing, the economic impact was such that it “sliced 0.9 percent from the gross domestic product, caused 2.3 million Filipinos to fall below the poverty line, and eventually cost a total of P571.1billion.”

With more than a million houses damaged or completely destroyed along with other structures and infrastructure, there’s no doubt that Yolanda’s wide path of destruction has brought about the most daunting reconstruction challenge the Philippines has faced since World War II.

Over the years since Yolanda struck, reports painting a disturbing picture of a continuing tragedy poured in. Among them was the 2015 widely publicized report of Chaloka Beyani, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), which many found unsettling.

“In both temporary and permanent housing, the provision[s] of water, adequate sanitation, and electricity remain seriously problematic,” Beyani’s report said. “Many families remain housed in collective ‘bunkhouses’ that do not meet necessary minimum standards for the provision of basic needs and services.”

“Some people have found themselves having to relocate two or more times since their initial displacement,” Beyani added. “Regrettably some families seem to have fallen through the protection safety net and remain living in substandard shelter in areas designated as ‘no-build’ or ‘hazardous’ due to the likelihood of future hazards.”

The Beyani report revealed bunk houses failed “to provide conditions of privacy and dignity” and “create numerous safety and protection challenges, particularly for women and girls who face threats including sexual abuse and early pregnancy.” In various areas, the report said, there is “a lack of adequate police presence which contributes to the overall feeling of increased insecurity, given the nature of their shelter and conditions.”

Apart from risks of sexual abuse were heartrending reports of rampant prostitution. “Many people were desperate for money. It was hard because the local and national governments were not able to immediately provide relief items to many areas. There were hungry children to feed and so many had no one to turn to. You can’t blame people if they turned to prostitution,” said another published report. “With their husbands dead and two, three young mouths to feed, can anyone blame them if they sell their bodies in exchange for some cash or even relief items?”

Human trafficking also became part of Yolanda’s continuing tragedy. Reports told of scores of young women including minors from Samar and Leyte provinces being rescued in 2015 by police in sex joints as far as Angeles City in Pampanga and other areas in Luzon.

And there were more cases of insanity and suicides, made worse by lack of psychiatric facilities in typhoon-ravaged areas to treat mental disorders. The World Health Organization said at least 800,000 survivors might have suffered various levels of mental health problems that include depression, hallucinations, excessive anxieties, social withdrawal, persistent nightmares, and frequent temper tantrums, among many other symptoms.

Ineptitude also formed part of Yolanda’s tragedy. A COA 2015 report said that P382 million in local and foreign cash donations were kept idle, along with billions in unutilized funds for rehabilitation and recovery. Also, tons of undistributed relief goods had expired or were rotting due to improper storage. And there were also reports of corruption in the form of 30 to 35 percent kickbacks on construction of bunkhouses.

Many feel uneasy over the various negative reports that have come to light recently and over the years, in the aftermath of the overflowing generosity and kindness that many countries all over the world have showered upon the Philippines to help Yolanda victims. Not doing enough to rectify the mistakes that cause deep shame would also be a continuing tragedy.

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