The strongest typhoon ever to hit the land, Yolanda is unnaturally powerful causing unimaginable damage and destruction to lands, properties and lives. It definitely portrayed the ugliest reality of a warmed world we live in today. The global warming has induced sea level rise which contributed to the 20 feet storm surge that definitely caught the victims off guard.
Gone are the days when we lived in a world without warming. The climate change it has caused makes tropical storms more damaging not only through increased winds speed and heavier rainfall but most notably rising sea levels which in turn means greater damage and severe loss of lives and properties.
Poor and developing countries like the Philippines with regular tropical storms once or twice a month will be greatly affected and devastated by the destructive effects of our warmed world. The Philippines has an average of 21 typhoons every year but Super Typhoon Yolanda was its 24th and it has been forecasted that two more typhoons will hit the country before the year ends.
When the Super Typhoon Yolanda had hit the central part of the Philippines last November 8, 2013, it has revealed the ugliest characteristics of unprepared government to manage and reduce/mitigate destructions caused by such a warmed world monster. It has also revealed the total failure of the government and its agencies to fully understand the implication of such disasters to the people and the environment. Hence, on the eve of the super typhoon, the President had announced to the nation that a signal number 4 [5 in international categories .] typhoon would be the strength of the coming disaster, but what would it be like when it hits the ground, he could not mention. How the people on the direct path of the monster typhoon would prepare could not be figured out.
Indeed, with the storm surge and the sadden rise of the sea level up to more than 20 feet where would the people go and hide? But the worst thing that the typhoon has exposed is that amidst monstrous disaster, the nation under the leadership of President Benigno “Nonoy” Aquino could not agree to almost everything and therefore weeks after the disastrous typhoon the government response could be best described as criminally slow and ineffective. Many of those who have survived the typhoon Yolanda could barely survive the hunger, anguish and desperation.
The General Picture and Some Hard Facts
The total number of people affected by the Typhoon Yolanda would be more than 9 million in the islands of Samar, Leyte, Northern Cebu, Negros, Panay and Busuanga. Seventy percent (70%) of the affected are in Samar and Leyte. Less than 10% of those affected and lost their houses are found in the evacuation camps which less than 2,000 in numbers. This means that around 90% are not staying in the evacuation camps. Many have gone to other islands and different parts of the country to forget about the devastation and destruction in order to stay alive. Like in the case of the city of Tacloban with 230,000 populations, more than 100,000 people have left the city to escape the aftermath of Yolanda.
The number of dead people has reached almost seven thousand and still increasing daily. It might reach more than ten thousand contradicting the limited number of deaths that the President would want to portray. At the eve of the super typhoon when the President was announcing the signal number 4  strength of the typhoon he was also calling for a zero casualties and hence the extra preparation efforts. But for the first few days after the Yolanda struck its ferocious violence creating unimaginable destruction to both population and the land, a police general declared that a number of deaths might reach more than ten thousand. He was immediately relieved from his post because he dared to contradict the President’s figure.
The number of missing persons, as of last count, has reached more than two thousand and the number of wounded persons has reached more than twenty thousand.
Almost 9 million houses are totally and partially destroyed mainly in the Samar and Leyte provinces but also in the northern part of the province of Cebu, the island of Daang Bantayan (95% destroyed), islands of Negros and Panay.
The Typhoon Yolanda has caused heavy damage in agriculture especially to rice (it was harvest season when the disaster occurred), corn and coconut trees. It has been estimated that the value of the destruction on agriculture would reach almost 2 billion pesos and can reach to 24.5 billion more including the total damages and destruction in the agricultural infrastructures e.g. irrigation, roads....
Since the Super Typhoon hit the islands of the central part of the country, the coastal areas with the mangroves were not spared. Ninety to ninety five percent of the coastal resources in the islands were totally destroyed. More than fifty thousand of motorised boats (in Panay island alone) used by the fisher folks for their livelihoods were totally damaged.
The worst impact of the disaster is more on the employment aspect which is estimated to effect 5.1 million workers mainly, from agriculture who will become jobless. The 620,000 available jobs for this year would easily be wiped out after Super Typhoon Yolanda. The economic slowdown in the regions affected namely region 6, 7 and 8, is believed to be around 25% and since this contribution to the national economy is estimated to be 8% in effect affects 1% of the gross domestic product in the country. The economists are predicting that 5.5% gross domestic product will be achieved in the last quarter of this year. This means the average growth in the gross domestic product of the country will be 7% this year.
This jobless growth in the economy this year will be mainly coming from the increased remittance of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who will work harder in order to send more money especially for their affected families and relatives in the affected regions of the country. The billions of money coming from both domestic and international donors for the Yolanda victims and the reconstruction of the damaged infrastructures will also contribute to the so-called growth of the country’s economy.
Storms of Criticism
As events began to unfold, people would want to wake up and do away with the worst nightmare they have experienced. Only to experience painful realities that the deaths and destructions in their midst are real and the more they have tried to escape from such devastation, the more they become immobilised and the feeling of helplessness would be generally observed in the hardest hit areas. Nobody could help anybody including the local government officials because they are victims themselves and their families were not spared from deaths and destructions. For the first few days or even weeks, the picture would be in frozen animation and where people were moving like literally zombies because they were in a state of shock and did not know where to start and where to go. Such situation has continued for two weeks (and as of this writing-several communities have not been reached by food and medical aids) where people have been weakened emotionally and physically for lack of foods and psychological first aids. For those who survived the destruction of the super typhoon, a challenge of how to be alive is a real struggle after more than two weeks.
The national government and its agencies were immobilised as well because they have a framework of operating only through the local government units. They (national government) seem not to know how to work in an emergency situation where local government officials are half capable or still emotionally affected and traumatized. This kind of dynamics has caused the delay or inaction of these officials to immediately respond to emergency situation where quick response would mean saving more lives.
Meanwhile, those who survived after weeks of no regular food do not have strength left to bury their dead much more to look for food to survive another day.
The worst that the survivors have experienced is having knowledge that there is literally the flooding of aids from both the international and domestic donors and solidarities but these have not reached them weeks after the disaster. With 95% of the electricity damaged, the only source of communication of survivors to the world is the media (both international and domestic). The main reason given for it not to reach the intended beneficiaries is the absence of system – where instead of having a system to serve its purpose of ensuring that the aids can immediately reach the survivors, it is the other way around, the survivors have to wait for the government system to be installed before they can partake with the urgently needed aid package (food and medicine).
The survivors have to literally beg for food in order to stay alive for another day. Meanwhile, stocks upon stocks of food can be seen in government custody and heavily guarded by the Philippine security forces (Philippine Army and Philippine National Police).
At the early days after the disaster, people have to literally loot for goods, mostly food items, to give to their families who have survived.
Another reason for the delayed response of the government is that, there is no readymade list of populations in the village level. What they (government officials) have is the voter’s lists which means it includes only the number of people from 18 years old and above. Besides this kind of reference (voter’s list) is very susceptible to “politicking” because only those who voted for the political officials in the previous elections can be given aid packages. The process/system can also serve as political investments for the coming elections for these traditional politicians whose opportunistic attitude can be seen in its ugliest form even in this worst kind of disaster.
Richard S. Solis, November 29, 2013
Table of contents
Darkness settles over the Philippine city of Tacloban and over Ameberto Atchecoso’s mind. His life, as he knew it, ended on Nov. 8 last year, when Supertyphoon Haiyan ripped through the provincial capital of Eastern Visayas. As always, during a major typhoon, his wife left their wooden house to take shelter one of the ward’s sturdy concrete buildings, while Atchecoso stayed back to protect their belongings.
“But we weren’t prepared for the water,” he says.
In a matter of minutes, their house was flooded and sucked out toward the ocean. Atchecoso was swept into the onrushing swell, but managed to regain his footing and make it to another building down the street, dodging debris flying in the air. An hour later, when the worst had passed, he found that the house where his wife had been taking shelter was completely submerged, leaving no survivors.
“Since then I can’t sleep, so I drink every night,” he says.
Supertyphoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, made landfall as the most ferocious storm in recorded history, when it lashed Eastern Visayas with wind speeds exceeding 300 km/h. A tsunami-like storm-surge deluged communities along the eastern seaboards of Leyte and Samar islands, claiming at least 6,300 lives and displacing 4 million people.
International responders have since managed to feed and find emergency shelter for the affected population. Cash-for-work programs saw a clearing of debris in a matter of weeks. There’s been no major outbreak of disease. But that doesn’t mean that everything is O.K.
“The government money that’s beginning to flow into the area needs to be invested in proper rebuilding,” says Julie Lyn Hall, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines. “The worry is that we’re starting to lose momentum. Without a further push, we’ll leave services dangerously vulnerable. And as the initial period of survival is starting to pass, despair is becoming more apparent.”
Tacloban was the hardest hit of all affected communities. Located at the end of a narrow bay, it took the brunt of the storm surge that was up to 7 m high. Concrete houses were reduced to their skeletons, and others flattened to the ground. For weeks, the city was smothered in debris, its air saturated by the nauseating stench of putrefying corpses. Mobs of desperate inhabitants scoured the streets for nourishment, picking clean every mall, warehouse or mom-and-pop store in their way. Some held up and pillaged from trucks that were bringing in aid.
Today, many parts of Tacloban are teeming with the hustle and bustle of commerce, and construction sites are dominating the cityscape. But Bernardita Valenzuela, information chief at the City Hall, emphasizes that this is but a superficial impression.
“It looks good, but underneath we’re still lacking food, safe housing and livelihood,” she says.
Since there are no local revenues to speak of, Tacloban is almost wholly dependent on external assistance. Frustration is growing over a lagging dispersal of recovery funds.
“The international community saved us from falling flat on our faces,” Valenzuela says. “But our own national government has not helped, and that for me is unpardonable.” A power drill almost drowns out her words. “We received a check to repair the City Hall, civic center and public markets, but that’s not what we need. We can work even if this building doesn’t have a nice facade, but 800 families still live in tents. For me, that’s heart wrenching.”
Valenzuela shares the view of many locals that the absence of funding has to do with the long-standing feud between the families of Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. Romualdez’ uncle, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is widely believed to have had a hand in the execution of Aquino’s father. Marc Singer, a senior analyst at Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA), says that the central government clearly had “no great love” for Tacloban before Haiyan, but highlights still another reason for the delayed release of monies.
“The administration came to power on a clear anticorruption platform,” he says. “Two months after Haiyan, the construction of resettlement homes came to a halt amid allegations of price rigging and corruption. Since then the government has been very cautious about allocating funds, and delays in the recovery also persist due to bureaucracy and a lack of resources.”
On Oct. 30, President Aquino finally approved a $3.8 billion plan, supported mainly by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, to rebuild infrastructure, resettle a million people and provide livelihood assistance. Some 25,000 people across the province still live in transitional housing. Another 200,000 or so live in partially repaired but ramshackle dwellings in zones deemed unsafe for habitation. They are all extremely vulnerable to new storms. Only a tenth of all evacuation centers are still usable in a region extremely prone not only to typhoons, but also volcanoes, landslides, floods and earthquakes. Finding safe land is an enormous challenge.
“If you overlap maps of all hazards you will find that there is no available land that is not prone to disaster,” says Luiza Carvalho, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator.
While the international community came together for an unprecedented mobilization of relief, donor fatigue has now set in. The U.N.’s Strategic Response Plan has only received about half of the funds it requires.
“Unfortunately, the resources are lagging behind for the recovery phase,” says Carvalho. “Twenty-six percent of our funds have come from individuals, and that’s fantastic, but most of that’s been earmarked for the humanitarian response.”
Among the international development community, Haiyan is now being talked about as “the new normal.” The Philippines is hit by more typhoons than any other country, and their frequency and severity are seemingly increasing. In the two years leading up to Haiyan, two other supertyphoons pummeled the country. A study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology notes that the intensity of typhoons over the past 40 years has increased by 25%, and the duration of the storms has extended. Earlier this fall, Supertyphoon Vongfang bypassed the Philippines at the last minute, averting a humanitarian crisis potentially worse than the one wrought by Haiyan.
Mayor Romualdez, whose home was also gutted in the storm, has become something of a spokesperson for disaster-prone cities in international climate panels during the past year. He is advocating a global climate discussion at the local government level, and spending on advance planning rather than relief.
“You have to start asking why millions of lives continue to perish while billions of dollars are being spent,” he tells TIME. “If you plan smarter cities you end up spending only 10% when disaster strikes. You have to see this as an investment, not a cost. Like vaccination and prevention instead of waiting for the emergency.”
Carvalho agrees. “Mitigation programs are often not as popular as resilience and disaster-risk reduction programs, but they can be efficient,” she says.
While an impressive total of $3.04 billion has been allocated for climate-change adaption and mitigation programs, there is little immediate comfort for the region’s working poor. Around 1 million people made their livings from the now devastated coconut plantations. For generations, people have been relying on the trees’ steady yield of nuts, leaves and edible sap. Withstanding extreme weather for up to a hundred years, the slender, flexible trunks were a metaphor of the inhabitants’ own resilience. However, the record-breaking winds of Haiyan proved too fierce, and rendered 15 million trees unproductive.
“We used to lead a simple, happy life before the storm,” says Lerio Sabulao, barangay captain, or neighborhood leader, in the little village of Maslog on the island of Samar. “The coco trees provided 80% of our income. Now we’re totally reliant on fishing — except there’s not that much fish as before either.”
In the outskirts of the village, Ronald Barsana heaps a thin layer of soil on top of a sprouting coconut. Fully grown trees are scattered like jackstraws around him. His economic security, a plantation inherited from his grandparents, was demolished during one exceptionally stormy night.
“When I saw the destruction, I thought, All is lost, we’re going to starve,” he says.
The first months after the typhoon, a well-wisher lent Barsana a chainsaw, with which he cut up his felled trees and built new houses both for himself and others. But money for further houses quickly evaporated, which meant that his logs started to rot.
“The life as a farmer was tough already before the storm,” he says. “I dream that my children will finish school, unlike me.”
However, these days, eking a living off taro and other vegetables he’s planted on the little slope behind his house, that dream seems far away. He can only afford two meals a day, let alone school supplies for his children. And his coconut seedlings will not carry fruit for another five to 10 years.
Aid organizations and the Philippine government are ramping up programs to provide affected populations in the countryside with employment. Richard S. Bolt, country director at the Asian Development Bank, acknowledges the enormous challenge to get the region’s coconut farmers back on their feet. But he also sees opportunities to “diversify away from relatively low-productivity coconut and introduce new higher-yielding varieties, as well as better institutional arrangements for organizing farmers to disseminate better production practices.”
Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation also sees hopes for the medium and long term. “The macro-economic outlook is good, insofar as direct government work, direct cash transfers, increased school spending and health spending will be helping the poorest the most. A better investment in human capital, even for rice and coconut farmers, can quickly make a discernible change.”
PSA’s Singer points out that the region was the second poorest in the Philippines before the typhoon.
“When we’re talking about rebuilding, and building back better, we need an appreciation of what was there before. The Eastern Visayas has always been an economic backwater, producing less than 3% of the nation’s GDP.”
And in the meantime, Haiyan’s survivors must learn to process their grief.
“Everyone who came here has been surprised by the Filipinos’ remarkable resilience and willingness to pick themselves up and start afresh,” says Hall of WHO. “But people are beginning to be very low, and there’s a great need of mental-health services. The one-year anniversary of the typhoon, Christmas and the Pope’s visit in January will be very important to help them get through these tough times.”
So will music. R&B streams out from a function room in an upscale restaurant in Tacloban. The City Hall choir and a five-man band are rehearsing for the commemorative ceremony on Nov. 8. Whitney Houston is mixed in with old Filipino hits.
“I get goose bumps and almost start crying when I sing some of these songs,” says 17-year-old Maria Teresa Roben. “Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking of the typhoon and all the children that died, [including] my classmate. The sound when the water entered our house, the hopelessness and feeling that I was going to die. Before, I didn’t believe in God, but now I pray every day.”
Mayor Romualdez is present, as he is during most rehearsals.
“We have to protect our next generation so they can strive for the Filipino Dream,” he says. “Their peace of mind is extremely important. They have to be able to sleep without fearing a new flood.”
The one-year anniversary of a relative’s death is called babang luksa in the Philippines, and is an important date typically observed with rituals. For this babang luksa, the mayor’s office in Tacloban is organizing a commemorative walk, a memorial service by the main mass grave and a large candle-lighting ceremony. It is expected to draw a great crowd, but some prefer to spend the day alone. Ameberto Atchecoso is going to light candles by the building where his wife died. Then he is going to slaughter the pig he bought as part of their retirement fund.
There’s so much talk about the future in Tacloban, but all ordinary people like Atchecoso can think about is the here and now.