“It’s no excuse but the present government response is the best that can be expected from any Philippine government. In fact, this one may be doing better than what other Philippine governments might have done. “
by Ducky Paredes
Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Richard Gordon makes sense in the heated debate on whether the government is doing enough one year later after Typhoon Yolanda. The Red Cross chairman says that the government strategy should be to “build back smarter” by putting up new townsites that are self-sufficient and disaster-resilient.
But Gordon notes that the “build back better” tack is slowing reconstruction efforts because of the lack of available land where permanent houses can be built for the typhoon survivors.
“The government wants to put up big permanent homes for the victims and that slows them down. The government mindset is to immediately construct these houses but the problem is land. They can expropriate but the next question is where?” Gordon notes,.
He made the remark as President Benigno Aquino met the Cabinet clusters involved in the Yolanda reconstruction. Perhaps, Goradon should have been in that cabinet meeting, where solution came from the housing sector, despite the Chair of the HUDCC Vice President Jejomar Binay being present, who never spoke but was only a litener to the monologue of the President.
Cabinet clusters need to firm up the implementing rules and guidelines (IRR) for Administrative Order No. 44 in order to streamline, coordinate and expedite the processes and requirements for permanent housing for affected families residing in hazard-prone and unsafe areas within the 50-kilometer radius or the “Yolanda Corridor.”
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The group People Surge Alliance for Yolanda Survivors, who are the extremist as regards anything that has to do with Yolanda, deplores the government “insensitivity” to the Yolanda victims.
They want the President to go — now! As if that would solve their problems.
While admitting that the government was “slow” in its actions, Gordon said it is understandable considering the extent of the damage from the disaster.
The fastest that these areas can achieve full recovery, according to Gordon, will be between “two to three more years.”
“Certainly, there are problems along the way so that the national and local government should fasttrack their efforts by closely monitoring and coordinating what should be done first,” the former senator said, noting that long-term planning should include the fact that the country is typhoon prone and that disasters are already a part of life.
“Given this, it’s not enough to build back better but smarter and more importantly, higher,” he pointed out as he suggested that shelters be constructed farther from the coasts.
“The government is empowered to put up new townsites and these should be elevated or multi-storey. Also, by building back smarter, the people should be provided with livelihood if not a transportation system that will bring them to and from their places of work such as the coasts in case fishing is their job,” Gordon added.
“The cycle of disaster and poverty must be addressed by offering long-term and smarter solutions,” he points out.
Yet, there are no miracle short cuts to the reality that many face years, or even the rest of their lives, enduring typhoon-exacerbated misery.
The government’s rehabilitation master plan envisages moving roughly one million people away from coastal areas that are deemed vulnerable to storm surges by the middle of 2016, when Aquino’s term ends.
However, those plans have already fallen behind schedule, amid problems in finding new land that is safe and suitable for 205,000 new homes, and the frustration of the victims is showing.
“The pace is not very fast. It’s snail paced unfortunately,” Vangie Esperas, a Tacloban councilor, said as she toured a fledgling new town with temporary shelters but no running water or power.
“Many of our brothers and sisters are still living in tents and some of them are in temporary shelters,” Esperas says.
Aquino has also expressed frustration at some of the delays, which is partly due to the infamous government bureaucracy.
The government also acknowledges the region’s economy will take many years to recover, largely because the two most important sectors—coconut farming and fishing industries— are in ruins.
“There’s no question in my mind the poor are poorer than they were before the typhoon,” Save the Children Philippine country director Ned Olney says.
IBON, an independent think tank, also says that the government’s “flawed” recovery program has failed to reach hundreds of thousands of affected families.
Yolanda affected the livelihood of about 5.6 million to 6 million workers especially in agriculture, fishing, trade and transport sectors. Agricultural income in the affected areas, for instance, was estimated to have dropped by 50 percent to 70 percent after the typhoon.
A survey of 1,094 respondents in six Eastern Visayas provinces showed that 8 out of 10 families earn less than P5,000 on the average every month. Majority of the respondents belong to families with five or more members.
Government reports that only some 215,471 families have been given livelihood support through its short-term ‘Cash for Building Livelihood Assets.’
“This could mean that as much as some 780,000 families have either no livelihood support or are relying on scattered efforts of non-government organizations (NGOs) and the private sector,” says IBON.
The number of evacuees has been estimated at 918,621 families and the number of houses destroyed at 1.2 million.
“In fact, around 250,000 families or 1.3 million individuals are still living in uncertain or inadequate homes such as in evacuation centers, tent cities, bunkhouses and those who partially rebuilt their homes in the government-declared ‘no-build’ areas. A year later, government data reports that there have only been 364 houses built and only in Tanauan and Tacloban in Leyte,” notes IBON.
The data from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) shows that just 213 classrooms have been repaired out of a target 19,648; only 27 of a target 132 public markets; 64 kilometers out of a target 431 kilometers of farm-to-market and national roads; and 3 out of a target 34 bridges.
IBON notes:“The government’s response to the urgent needs of the Yolanda survivors is not only slow and glaringly inadequate. It also fails to address the most important reasons for the vulnerability to calamities of Eastern Visayas communities—among these the widespread rural and urban inequities that cause millions of people to be poor and vulnerable in the first place.”
It’s no excuse but the present government response is the best that can be expected from any Philippine government. In fact, this one may be doing better than what other Philippine governments might have done, if such a calamaity had happenned in their time.
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hvp 11.06.14Readers who missed a column can access www.duckyparedes.com/blogs. This is updated daily. Your reactions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send me a message through Twitter @diretsahan.