Philippines: Typhoon survivors face choice between income and safety

9 June, 2014
May 2014, Tacloban, the Philippines: Ronnie Aguirre stands alongside his home in the Magallanes neighbourhood of Tacloban. The home, rebuilt on the ruins of the houses destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, has been marked as unsafe. Ronnie's family has now decided to move to an area that will be safer if another story his. Credit: OCHA/J. Reyna
May 2014, Tacloban, the Philippines: Ronnie Aguirre stands alongside his home in the Magallanes neighbourhood of Tacloban. The home, rebuilt on the ruins of the houses destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, has been marked as unsafe. Ronnie's family has now decided to move to an area that will be safer if another story his. Credit: OCHA/J. Reyna

Would you rebuild your home in an area that you knew was unsafe? Or would you move your family to safety, even if that meant losing your source of income?

This is the dilemma that countless families who lost their homes to Typhoon Haiyan now face. Across the Typhoon Haiyan-affected corridor, over 1.1 million homes were damaged or destroyed according to the National Disaster and Risk Recovery Management Council estimates.

In Tacloban alone more than 12,000 homes were completely destroyed and 46,000 severely damaged. The rebuilding needs are immense. Aid agencies have so far provided emergency shelter supplies – tents, tarpaulins and the like – to 570,000 families. A further 160,000 households have received tools and materials to help them rebuild their homes.

Moving to safety

In the months following Typhoon Haiyan, many families rebuilt their homes along battered coastlines, ignoring Government decreed ‘No Dwell Zones’. These simple shelters – fashioned using tarpaulins and salvaged wood and tin – offered protection against the searing Filipino sun, but not against another Typhoon or storm surge.

The Aguirre family – Ailyn, Ronnie, their four children and their two nieces – rebuilt their home in the Magallanes neighbourhood of Tacloban. They knew the area was no longer considered safe and that they would be vulnerable if another storm hit. But they did not have a choice. The family relies on the money Ronnie makes as a fisherman so they needed to be close to the water.

But making a modest income from the sea is no longer enough to keep the Aguirre family living on the shore. Seven months on from Haiyan, they have decided to move inland, away from the sea and their income. “We have decided to move to safety,” says Ailyn Aguirre. “Here there is no support and no future.”

Moving away from their income

The Aguirre’s family house, rebuilt on stilts above the water, is adorned with a large, hand-painted “055.” The tag signifies that it should not be standing, and serves as a warning to others thinking of building nearby. It also means that the Aguirres are eligible to receive support for relocation.

Ronnie has a piece of land a few kilometers away, in Utap, and the Aguirres will build there. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) – a US-based international aid organization - is providing them with technical and financial support to build a new house on safer land.

They hope they will continue to make a modest income even if they have to commute. Ronnie is making crab traps when he is not fishing.

Relocation is not the only answer

The Government’s initial blanket ban on rebuilding along the coast has been adjusted of late. Authorities will develop detailed hazard maps for each area showing where future flooding or storm surges are likely to hit. This means that some families will no longer being urged to relocate.

Across the road from where the Aguirres live, Mary Mil Canillas and her family have started building a new home, again with help from CRS.

The sturdy frame of the new house is already standing. Mary Mil and her family are counting the days until they can move in. They have been living at the nearby San Fernando Evacuation Centre since Haiyan struck. The evacuation centre, fashioned in the grounds and classrooms of an elementary school, is still home to 75 families.

“There is no privacy when one has to live with other families in a classroom,” says Mary Mil.

Tools and training to build back safer

The Canillas’ new home is being built to withstand future typhoons. Mary Mil’s husband is the one building the house, using tools and training received from CRS.

CRS is one of many shelter providers in Haiyan affected communities. In Tacloban, they are supporting about 3,000 families.

“Our engineers and foreman provide technical assistance to households to repair and retrofit houses that sustained minor or major damage or to completely re-build houses which were destroyed,” says Holly Fuller, the CRS Programme Manager in Tacloban.

Continuing need for support

“I am impressed with the resilience these families are demonstrating, and now we all want to see that building back is safer,” said UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang when she visited the Aguirre and Canillas families in Tacloban on 24 May. Ms. Kang also spoke of the uncertainty many survivors expressed, especially in terms of shelter and livelihoods.

“The humanitarian community supports the need for clarification by the government in these areas,” Ms. ASG Kang, highlighting that there is still a continuing need for funding for the ongoing transition to recovery and reconstruction.

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