Philippines: Valerie Amos hails progress post Haiyan, warns severe needs remain

28 February, 2014
26 Feb 2014, Tacloban, the Philippines: UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos visited the Philippines this week - her third visit since Typhoon Haiyan hit the centre of the country in November 2013. She hailed progress made by communities and aid groups but warned that more assistance is needed. Credit: OCHA/Joey Reyna
26 Feb 2014, Tacloban, the Philippines: UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos visited the Philippines this week - her third visit since Typhoon Haiyan hit the centre of the country in November 2013. She hailed progress made by communities and aid groups but warned that more assistance is needed. Credit: OCHA/Joey Reyna

UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos has hailed the progress that has been made in areas devastated almost four months ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan. Speaking at the end of her visit to the Philippines – her third visit since Haiyan made its destructive landfall – she described some places as “unrecognizable” compared to her last visit, two and a half months ago.

“Tacloban today is almost unrecognizable from the city I saw in November,” Ms. Amos said during a press conference in Manila. “Streets that were piled high with debris are now jammed with traffic.

“The early signs of recovery”

Ms. Amos first visited Tacloban just days after Haiyan. During that trip she was critical of the initial aid response, describing it as both too slow, and insufficient in scale and ambition.

But the situation in Tacloban today is vastly different. Most businesses have now reopened, as have schools and many public services.

The aid chief also went to Guiuan, on the south-east fringe of eastern Samar, where the typhoon first made landfall. It is another town struggling to shake off its rubble and debris and return to life.

“Women and men continue to make every effort to rebuild their lives,” Ms. Amos said. “The early signs of recovery were visible everywhere.”

A temporary home, but a home still

During her visit to Guiuan, USG Amos met the Lacro family. The Lacros – Evelyn and Abito and their three daughters – saw their home washed away by Typhoon Haiyan and its fearsome storm surge. Evelyn Lacros told Ms. Amos of the horror of the night that Haiyan hit.

“During the typhoon, I was with my mother,” she said. “I was worried because our family’s store was shaking. We tried to protect our belongings, but we really didn’t know what to do.”

It took the family months to gather materials to fashion a very simple shelter at the end of the town’s jetty. Their shelter has a door and a roof, but it hangs over the edge of the jetty. It clearly fails to meet the government’s goal that people “build back stronger”.

That said, life for the Lacros is slowly returning to normal. The girls have received their back to school-kits and have returned to classes. Their father Abito was supported by an NGO to return to work as a pedi cab operator. Evelyn took part in the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) cash-for-work debris clearance project. She invested some of the money she earned in re-establishing the family’s store.

The first town hit by the typhoon

“Signs of the devastation are still evident but so too are heartening signs of progress. Markets are up and running. People are rebuilding,” said Ms. Amos. She hailed the resilience of the families like the Lacros, as well as the work of the humanitarian community.

“We proved that we could make rapid process in providing emergency shelter and assistance for people to rebuild their homes,” she said. “The Philippines authorities, including national and local government, UN agencies and NGOs and the Filipino people are to be commended for the pace of progress.”

Building back better

Despite this progress, people still need a huge amount of support over the coming months to get back on their feet. “The outstanding needs for temporary shelter and permanent homes are enormous,” Ms. Amos said. “Livelihood needs are also huge. A million farmers in the [Eastern Visayas] region were affected when more than 33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed.”

The aid community has prioritized both shelter and livelihoods support; a series of projects, big and small, to help ensure that people have something sturdier than a tent to meet the next typhoon season and a job and an income to pay for food and the daily necessities.

The year-long Typhoon Haiyan Strategic Response Plan, which was launched in November, has received 46 per cent of the US$788 million that humanitarian organizations urgently need to implement immediate and longer-term efforts.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. We have to help the Government and people build back safer so that the next massive storm does not bring the terrible levels of devastation that we saw with Haiyan,” said Ms. Amos.

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