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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

Column: One month on from Typhoon Haiyan it’s essential we get people back to work

The devastation is still apparent, writes Clare Ahern, who says it’s vital that people’s livelihoods are now restored.

Clare Ahern

IT’S BEEN ONE month since Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Visayas region of the Philippines. Concepcion was the exact point at which Haiyan made landfall for the fifth time and the devastation it left behind is still visible at every turn.

Located on the island of Panay, the municipality of Concepcion is made up of 25 Barangays (villages or wards), 11 of which are on small islands off the mainland. In the town, and one month on, debris lines the streets and the shoreline – the wreckage of people’s homes, their boats, even children’s toys and clothes are still scattered. Telephone poles and power lines are ripped down.
The local school which acted as a refuge and evacuation centre during the typhoon is still home to fourteen families. Its students are on an extended break until at least early January.

Experience

Xcl, a 17-year-old student of that school is using her time off to volunteer at the mayor’s office to help with the relief effort. While she usually enjoys school holidays she hopes to become a teacher so is looking forward to getting back to her studies. She only mentions that her own house has been destroyed when asked directly about her experience of the typhoon. ‘We also need help,’ she says.

Generosity and resilience seem to be characteristic of Filippino people in general. On the island of Danao Danao there is no clean water yet we are offered cold beverages in the sweltering heat. It is genuinely humbling. People who have themselves suffered great loss are helping others, everyone is working together. The warmth and upbeat humour that we have encountered almost masks the suffering that Haiyan has wreaked.

Physical evidence of the damage is all around but it is only when people open up about their own experiences that a sense of personal struggle and loss comes across. Many are overcome with emotion as they tell their stories.

Terror

Tears rolled down Donna Maabong’s face as she shared the terror she felt that day. Many of the men on Danao Danao did not evacuate but instead stayed behind to protect their boats. ‘Our husbands were with our pump boats. All day and all night we were praying that they would be safe and that no-one would be dead.’ The men’s efforts were in vain. Most had to abandon their boats to save their lives. Donna bows her head and explains, ‘It is hard because four of the men have been missing since that night.’

The fear and shock that people felt as the typhoon struck with such ferocity is conveyed in story after story. No-one expected winds so strong and no-one expected the huge waves that followed. ‘At the time that the typhoon hit it was low tide so we didn’t expect it’ said Gildreth Hbancio, from the island Barangay of Igbon. ‘We thank God that the typhoon hit here in the early morning and not in the evening when it is very dark. We all say that if it came late at night, it’s very dark, there’s no light and you cannot see so probably many would have died’.

The people of Igbon had daylight on their side and were able to run to the mountain for cover when the waves came in but the scale of loss they have suffered has crippled their capacity to recover by themselves. Gildreth spoke to us amongst the rubble where her house used to stand. Most of her neighbours’ homes were also gone- a mess of wood, trees and fishing nets in their place.

Homes and livelihoods

All of the people we spoke to in Igbon were happy and relieved to receive the emergency shelter and NFI kits being distributed that day, but they all said what they need now are materials and tools to rebuild their homes and their boats. Their boats are their livelihoods and very few were left intact on the island. Most of the men have not been able to fish in the month since Haiyan struck.

Local authorities have been well organised and were able to deliver food supplies in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. Their capacity to respond without international support has been totally overwhelmed on this occasion but they have done everything in their power to facilitate the smooth delivery of relief items in the weeks since.  Concern has been supporting them by providing shelter kits and has reached over 10,000 people so far.

With relief efforts well underway, the next big step is recovery. Back in mainland Concepcion, the sounds of construction still ring out as people set about repairs with whatever materials are readily available, but few have the resources to do rebuild without assistance. Restoring livelihoods is a huge part of the process.

Fishing boats

In Concepcion, fishing is the primary source of income but 2,300 fishing boats out of an estimated 2,500 have been damaged or destroyed.

This is a devastating blow to the local economy. One month on from the typhoon, it is essential now that people can get back to work. Concern is working closely with local authorities to provide a financial support package to affected families for replacement and repair work on these boats so that they can regain their livelihoods and set themselves on the road to recovery.

As well as marking one month since the typhoon, yesterday was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the feast from which Concepcion takes its name and usually there are week long festivities to celebrate it, but not this year. The damage sustained here has been too severe, people have lost too much. Nonetheless, the people of Concepcion did not let one of the most important days in their calendar pass without any recognition.

Although the tone was predominantly sombre in the religious ceremonies and processions that took place, it was still a day where family and friends came together to be with their loved ones. It ended with a gathering in the town square where people reflected on their collective loss but also celebrated everything they still have and what they can build on.

One month on and the people here are not afraid to look back but their gaze is fixed firmly on the future.



(YouTube/Concern Worldwide)

Read: Ireland sends €120k more aid to Philippines>

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