Seeking decent shelter a year after Yolanda

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Survivors still face the difficulties of prolonged uncertainty of temporary shelters and lack of livelihood, amid government measures that aggravate their plight

IBON Features— Decent shelter is a fundamental social right which super-typhoon Yolanda survivors have not fully realized even a year after the calamity hit the country. Government’s establishment of a one-stop-shop for the clearance and processing of permanent housing projects just days before the first year anniversary of Yolanda is more likely a publicity measure amid growing criticism of its slow-paced rehabilitation program.

Notwithstanding government efforts to create a semblance of improvement in areas in Leyte where Pope Francis will be setting foot this January, Yolanda survivors continue to face the difficulties of residing in temporary shelters as well as the prolonged uncertainty of livelihood amid goverment measures that aggravate their plight.

In focus: Eastern Visayas. Tatay Benigno, 62, lost his livelihood of fishing and fish vending to the sea. His house, along with about 500 households in Barangay San Roque, one of the most populated coastal barangays of Tanauan, Leyte, was totally destroyed and washed out by Yolanda. Despite his old age and with only one hand to work on, he continues to assist fishermen in pulling their boats ashore in exchange for fish and crabs, which he sells to his neighbors at the relocation at Bgy. Pago so he could buy rice. He worked every day without pay to complete the 1,800 hours “sweat for asset” mechanic just to get this housing unit. But his unit, the roofing of which is faulty and leaks into a small pool of water whenever it rains, remains incomplete because the 70% funding counterpart from the National Housing Authority has not arrived as of September 2014. Two other relocation areas are set to be put up in Barangay Sacme and Barangay Maribi of the same town even if these barangays have been mapped as among those prone to severe flooding in Tanauan.

Meanwhile, many of the region’s residents living in tent cities have to suffer extreme heat and cold in Tacloban City tent cities located near coastal areas: an eight-month-old baby died at the San Jose tent city last May because of this. Also, to replace other tents that have become dilapidated after almost a year, residents of Barangays 87, 88 and 89 have requested for temporary shelter kits from the local government but in vain.

“Mainit dito,” says twelve-year-old Charlene Gonzales who stays in a tent house in San Jose of the same town with her mother and siblings. “Walang kuryente, at sa gabi minsan hindi kami makatulog sa init kahit nagpapaypay si Nanay (At daytime we go out because the house is like an oven. There is no electricity, and in the evening sometimes we couldn’t sleep even if Mother uses a fan).” Because it had become difficult to fish since government imposed the no-dwelling zone near the shores, Charlene’s father, who was formerly a fisherman, was forced to find work in Manila as a construction worker.

Thirty-seven-year-old Rodrigo used to earn Php160 everyday as a construction worker before Yolanda struck. Last July, a month after government declared that the relief period was over and stopped delivering relief to Yolanda-stricken areas, Rodrigo’s wife Andrea left for Manila to work as a housemaid for P3,000 a month. There are hardly any jobs available to earn income and support families after Yolanda. Rodrigo is left at the bunkhouse to care after their 15-month-old daughter Rodalyn. They eat twice a day on budgeted rice and noodles and could no longer afford fruits.

Rosenda, 32, is worried that the planned relocation site for them by the LGU in Barangay Tacuranga, Palo, is several kilometers away from the town center of Palo and that their four children’s daily transportation to school would triple from Php30 to Php90 a day. She works as a part time pedicurist and manicurist at Php80 and also sells food. Her husband earns Php260 daily as a hotel janitor.

Rosenda is among the survivors whom the Mayor of Palo informed will be relocated to another temporary shelter in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis in January 2015. The International Organization for Migration, which works with government under the shelter cluster program, checked the relocation site and found that the bunkhouses there did not have toilets yet. Instead of transferring to the relocation site, many of the survivors chose to go back to the original location of their pre-Yolanda homes and livelihood along the government-decared “No-Dwelling-Zones”.

Government itself has countered its own “No-Dwelling-Zone” policy supposedly meant to keep residents from danger zones. For instance, it set-up tent cities in the forbidden areas in various Tanauan barangays and relocated some 764 households from their former temporary shelter, while permanent housing is not yet available.

Aggregates. According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), shelter is the second most wanting among the unmet needs of super-typhoon Yolanda/ Haiyan victims at 58%. Shelter follows early recovery and livelihood (73%) as the most unmet need and is succeeded by child and family protection (55%), education (40%), health (38%), food (35%), water, sanitation and hygiene (24%) and nutrition (11%).

Relatedly, the number of displacement sites in Yolanda-affected areas decreased from 109 to 66, but the number of displaced families grew from 5,523 to 5,830 from December 2013-April 2014. Displacement sites include evacuation centers, tent cities, transitional bunkhouses and spontaneous settlements. As of April 2014, the most number of displaced families (3,928) were in bunkhouses. The next most number of displaced families were in 14 tent cities (1,422). Yet, in other typhoon-stricken areas, as in Cebu, bunkhouses have been phased out.

These figures show the lack of more permanent settlement that would more aptly serve as the survivors’ space for long-term recovery. The unconditional provision of decent housing for the typhoon victims appears to be excluded from government’s priorities in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. The lack of jobs available for the super-typhoon survivors also does not indicate the presence of a strategic economic rehabilitation plan.

The decrease in the 2015 national budget’s overall allocation for socialized and low-cost housing from Php16.4 billion in 2014 to Php9l7 billion proposed for this year, partially explains the sorry state of settlement in Yolanda-affected areas. Social housing has become less of a priority for the national government, especially after giving more room for the private to construct low-cost housing. The fact that majority of Filipinos are poor and cannot afford to avail of these housing projects will be underscored after the one-stop-shop for permanent housing in Yolanda-stricken areas has been declared open for business.

Such state neglect for people’s general welfare and national development is the socio-economic disaster that continues to afflict Yolanda-affected areas – and the entire nation, for that matter – even before the onslaught of what has come to be known as one of the world’s strongest typhoons ever. IBON Features

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