Typhoon Haiyan victims pick up pieces with church help

Caritas efforts to rehouse and rehabilitate survivors have so far proved much more successful than the government's
Typhoon Haiyan victims pick up pieces with church help

This photo taken on Nov. 1, 2015 shows a woman preparing to dry clothes at her house in a temporary shelter site for survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, Leyte province, central Philippines. Rehousing efforts by Caritas have so far proved more successful than those of the government. (Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP)

To date, the social action arm of the Catholic Church has been able to help about 1.8 million people affected by the destruction brought by Super Typhoon Haiyan that struck the central Philippines in 2013.

The church's recovery and rehabilitation program has become one of its largest and far-reaching natural disaster responses, amounting to about US$50 million.

It is no surprise that the efficient response from the church has been compared with how the Philippine government implemented post-Haiyan rehabilitation programs.

Almost five years after the disaster, the government response has been beset with issues of corruption and alleged substandard construction of houses for survivors.

Of 205,128 housing units that were supposed to be built, only 67,754 units, or 33 percent, are fully completed. So far, only 34.3 percent of the completed homes are occupied.

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Meanwhile, Caritas Philippines reports that it was able to repair 593 housing units and construct 768 transitional units, 1,923 progressive core-shelter units, and 1,167 permanent shelter units.

The progressive core shelters have a lifespan of 10 years while 'permanent' houses can last a minimum of 20 years, according to Caritas.

A priest blesses housing units built by the Catholic church in Tacloban City in 2016. (Photo by Ma Regie Ruego)

 

Jing Rey Henderson, the church group's coordinator, said that from the very start they have to tell people that the program is theirs and "not one of the Catholic Church."

She said people need to have a sense of ownership and entitlement and to bounce back and become more "empowered, resilient, and sustainable."

Henderson said Caritas works within the framework of community-managed disaster risk reduction and the principles and strategies of community organizing.

"Through these, [we] ensure that even without the presence of [church groups], and even beyond the funding period, communities can sustain programs," she said.

Henderson claimed that true to their vision, 166 communities under the church's three-year intervention program have become sustainable.

"The program is of and for communities," she said. "The recovery and rehabilitation program have flourished because the communities have a high sense of full ownership."

All the targets for the three-year program in nine dioceses covering 51 towns and 166 villages in the central Philippines were accomplished.

When asked what has made the church projects more successful than government initiatives, Father Virgilio Canete of Palo Archdiocese pointed to the absence of "red tape."

The priest said government "procedures on procurement demand a lot of signatories."

"The situation post-Haiyan was such that government agencies involved got tied up," said Father Canete, adding that the church had the advantage of more volunteers.

Rina Reyes, leader of the Rights Network, a land-rights group, says government rehabilitation efforts have not been successful "because the affected population was not consulted."

She points to "uncoordinated efforts of government agencies ... that do not talk to each other to resolve roadblocks, hindering rehabilitation needs."

"There is lack of a concrete rehabilitation plan that suit the needs of the affected," she said.

This photo taken early in May shows unfinished government housing units in a resettlement site in Eastern Samar province. (Photo by Robert Dejon)

 

Wendell Avisado, an adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte on rehabilitation efforts, blames the "vicious cycle" of the government's bureaucratic system.

And while the government continues to find ways to address the problems, people complain that they are living in shelters that are comparable to "pigpens."

Raul Malibago, a 50-year-old survivor, says his family of ten people was provided with a government housing unit that measures a mere 16 by 18 meters.

"We are not even allowed to build a second floor," he said. "When we sleep, we stick together. It's small, hot, overcrowded, and there is no space for privacy," said Malibago.

He said the house is made of "all sand and no steel bars," making it dangerous for those inside. "I'm afraid it will collapse if there's an earthquake," he said.

"These housing units are not homes," said Christopher Durana, deputy secretary-general of the urban poor activist group Kadamay.

"These are nothing but pens only fit for pigs," he said, adding that the shelters have no stable water or electricity supply.

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