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Search for missing continues two years after Haiyan

In a Catholic country that values its dead, closure remains elusive

Joe Torres, Manila and Elmer Recuerdo, Tacloban City

Joe Torres, Manila and Elmer Recuerdo, Tacloban City

Published: November 05, 2015 04:06 AM GMT

Updated: November 04, 2015 05:25 PM GMT

Search for missing continues two years after Haiyan

Victims of Typhoon Haiyan dramatize their call for justice during a protest rally in Manila in October 2014. (Photo by Vincent Go)

The search for the missing victims of Typhoon Haiyan continues two years after the devastating storm struck the central Philippines, killing at least 7,500 people.

An organization of typhoon survivors complained that there has been no serious accounting of victims of the disaster, which hit the country on Nov. 8, 2013.

"Our search for justice is not only for the living," said Dr. Efleda Bautista, leader of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors.

"Those who died also deserve justice, and we can start it by identifying who these people are," Bautista said.

The government's official gazette has recorded 6,193 people who died during the disaster, but the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council recorded 6,300 victims. 

The official gazette reported that 1,061 people remain missing. 

Various media reports estimated that at least 7,500 people died and some 2,500 others are missing due to Haiyan.

"There is no clear basis on how the government arrived with those figures," said Bautista, adding that many fatalities were buried without being identified while others were washed out to sea and never found.

The death toll could be more than 10,000, Bautista said, adding that the 20,000 cadaver bags provided by the World Health Organization "were nearly all used."

The UNHCR said more than 4.1 million people were displaced by Haiyan, which damaged some 1.1 million homes.

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Families who lost their loved ones during the disaster are losing hope of finding the remains of their relatives.

A survey by pollster Social Weather Stations in November 2014 showed that while 43 percent were "very hopeful" that missing relatives may be found, 41 percent said they were "somewhat not hopeful" and another 8 percent were not hopeful at all.

"We are a predominantly Catholic country and our culture values our departed relatives," said Bautista. "No matter how poor we are, we always want to make sure that those who died are given proper burial and prayers are said for them," she said.

Family members light candles to remember their departed loved ones in the province of Leyte on the first anniversary of the Haiyan disaster in 2014. (Photo by Vincent Go)


Rebuilding lives remains a promise

Social Watch Philippines, a civil society group in Manila, noted that rebuilding the lives of Haiyan survivors "remains a promise" two years after the disaster.

"With the magnitude of the problem, the government should stop treating the reconstruction efforts in business-as-usual mode," said Leonor Magtolis Briones, convener with the group.

The results of a study done by Social Watch, which was released on Oct. 4, show that a total of 205,128 families continue to live in "high-risk zones." 

The report also noted that only 16,544 housing units have been built since the disaster struck, far too low for the target production. 

Sen. J.V. Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Resettlement, said that at the rate the project is going, only 9,000 to 10,000 units can be built in a year. 

"If nothing changes, [the government] might only be able to accomplish the target of 205,128 houses in the next 18 years," Ejercito said.

The Social Watch study also showed that only about 25 percent of the government's investment requirements for livelihood has been released to agencies implementing projects for victims.

"We should not lose hope that we will still recover," Benedictine Sister Editha Eslopor told a gathering of Haiyan survivors Oct. 3.

Sister Eslopor urged the people to remain vigilant amid reports that funds intended for disaster victims may be used to fund the candidacy of politicians who are running in next year's elections. 

"We should not allow aid for survivors to be used in politics," she said. "We are still not OK, poverty is still rampant, and many people remain hungry," said Eslopor.

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