text, photos, and video by Julius D. Mariveles
THE REGION was already poor to begin with, but poverty in areas hard hit by supertyphoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan) “may soar” unless government addresses several concerns over the relocation of victims of the supertyphoon.
The warning was issued by international relief agency Oxfam in a report released six months after the sypertyphoon ravaged Eastern Visayas.
In its report, Oxfam raised concerns that the manner in which government is relocating thousands of Yolanda survivors, while an opportunity to “build back better,” may likely leave many of them “poorer and more vulnerable to disasters.”
The report was one of several released by donor and multilateral institutions and relief agencies half a year after the supertyphoon swept through the Visayas and killed more than six thousand people.
On Monday, the Philippine Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross announced an ambitious three year rehabilitation plan for the region as it noted that there were “major long-term recovery needs” that remain.
The Red Cross rehab plan will be funded with 320 million Swiss Francs, or roughly 11.4 billion pesos. Some 75 percent of the funds came from private donations to the PNRC and the ICRC, with another 15 percent from governments, and ten percent from the corporate sector.
The money will be spent for shelter and basic needs of 775,000 Yolanda victims identified as among the “most vulnerable,” according to the Red Cross.
In its report titled The Right Move? Ensuring durable relocation after Haiyan, Oxfam noted that government plans have ignored “key elements” of sustainable relocation processes, and also lack technical guidance and support.
“The legal rights of thousands of people to be informed and consulted are not being met,” it added.
And, if the more than 200,000 typhoon survivors would not be given a chance to voice their needs and take part in the planning, relocation efforts are “likely to fail and push survivors deeper into poverty,” the Oxfam report said.
Government rehabilitation czar, former Senator Panfilo Lacson, Sr., however, told PCIJ that Oxfam may not be aware that the plan being prepared by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery has considered “all components.”
With at least four million people left homeless, Oxfam said the government should show “increased political will” to “do it right this time,” and learn from what it called flaws in the past that have led to failed relocation initiatives.
In February and March 2014, Oxfam said it had interviewed 453 individuals and had organized 14 focus groups and spoke with more than 30 key informants in three provinces in Eastern Samar, Leyte and Cebu. It pointed out, however, that the survey only provides “general trends” and does not aim to reflect the perceptions and views of all Yolanda-affected populations.
Among the key findings in the report are:
- Of the 14 million affected by Yolanda, 40 percent were classified as “already living below the poverty line” even before Yolanda struck. According to the Philippine National Statistical Coordination Board, a Filipino family with five members should be earning a combined monthly income of P6,195 in 2007 so as not to be considered poor.
- Forty-nine percent of the people surveyed cited livelihood as the most important consideration for authorities in considering site selection. Overall, people interviewed are dependent on the fishing industry (35 percent) or are petty traders (26 percent). They also said they expect to stay permanently in the relocation areas and would not transfer without that guarantee.
- It also warned that poverty incidence in the Visayas “is expected to soar” following Yolanda because the relocation process, unless improved, may add to the economic hardships of the affected communities, in particular, the people’s loss of their income sources and additional costs or find themselves in places where jobs are not suited for their skills.
- Thirty-two percent of the people interviewed said safety from hazards is one of the most important consideration for authorities in identifying permanent relocation sites. In areas hardest hit by the storm, this concern was more important than livelihood, for example in Eastern Samar where the typhoon made its first landfall, more than 50 percent of the interviewees identified safety as more important than livelihood.
- Only eight percent or 53 of 643 pre-Yolanda evacuation centers would be usable during typhoons. The typhoon season in the Philippines will begin in June. People interviewed also said government should build robust evacuation centers.
- There was an “extremely” low awareness among people interviewed about their rights regarding relocation. Eight-one percent said they are “not aware” of it while one-third of them said they would accept relocation because they feel they have “no choice.”
In the report’s section “More than Houses,” Oxfam said people become more anxious the farther they are relocated from their sources of livelihood. In Tacloban where the relocation site is about 15 kilometers away, women interviewed in focus-group discussions said being relocated too far will remove them from their long-term social networks or extended family that support them in caring for their children.
For the relocation to be successful, Oxfam said new sites should provide equivalent livelihood opportunities including access to essential markets like customers, trading opportunities and inputs and these should be as close as possible to the original location of the community.
Oxfam cited the experiences of communities Bayan ni Juan in Calauan, Laguna where many people affected by Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 left the relocation site due to the lack of livelihood and “few” basic services. Similarly, people relocated away from their livelihood in the central business districts of Cagayan De Oro and Iligan following Typhoon Washi found themselves facing problems due to increased transportation cost and the longer time needed to get to the relocation site.
“I’m very worried, especially for my children because I don’t know how we’ll eat,” Lionel Advincula, 48, a fisherman and father of nine children, told Oxfam. Advincula lost his boat and house during the storm and is worried that he will “sink deeper into poverty because our livelihoods haven’t been restored.”
“(We are) concerned that municipalities planning relocation are currently focusing their efforts on identifying available land and housing units providers, with less attention paid to livelihood generation,” the group said. “If the government is serious about safety, it should prioritize the repair or re-building of evacuation centers as a matter of urgency.”
But even if the families do get relocated, most of those living on the seashore who are informal settlers hope that the government can provide them with a permanent housing solution and protect them from future eviction. However, local governments do not have a clear policy yet on tenure arrangements.
Officials agree that security of tenure would be a “powerful incentive” for relocation but they do not want families to be able to sell their properties and return to their original location. Those interviewed by Oxfam mentioned a usufruct arrangement where households would have a house title, a likely time-bound right to use the house and to keep it in the family through inheritances but not to sell it.
“We are expecting that the land will be given to us; that the government will buy land for relocation,” 54-year-old Lucena Antipolo of Hernani, Eastern Samar told Oxfam. She added “it is very important to know this, if we can own our own land; if not, we won’t transfer.”
People also said there should be several factors that must be considered in choosing relocation sites. These are the closeness of the site to where they live, preferably a maximum of one kilometer, access to transportation, availability of electricity and water and that schools, churches and markets must be on it.
But if these are what people think they need, do the national and local governments know about it?
Oxfam said its survey showed that the rights of affected communities provided for in national laws are “not being met.” Among them are the right to information and to participate in the planning and implementation of the relocation process.
“As a result, municipalities fail to understand people?s expectations and to integrate them in their planning for the relocation process, thus reducing its prospects of success.”
There is “very little information” for people targeted for relocation. In Tacloban City where relocation is expected to start in a few months, at least 56 percent of the people interviewed said they do not know where they will be transferred.
Eighty percent or eight out of 10 people said they are not aware of their rights regarding permanent relocation.
“Their sense of powerlessness is striking: one-third of people interviewed (31 per cent) said that they would accept being relocated because they feel they have no choice.” Oxfam noted as it pointed out that national and local government officials must provide affected communities with “relevant information.”
People said the information they need are the location of the relocation site, which was the most cited during the interviews, followed by the timing and the target population. They added that the two most affected means for them to be informed are community meetings and through barangay officials.
Oxfam cited the case of community consultations conducted in the Compostela Valley province after the Typhoon Bopha disaster in May 2013 that was facilitated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It said the meeting provided a platform for communities to raise issues and questions about long-term recovery plans and to seek feedback from communities.
This process, it added, should be a standard procedure in Yolanda-affected communities targeted for relocation.
Local government units are also faced with the challenges of relocation like limited land availability, lengthy titling processes and lost property records, Oxfam said and most of these LGUs “do not have the financial and technical capacity or the workforce to face these challenges.”
Lacson, however, said his office did a “cluster approach” in coming out with their plans. Five clusters were set up – each headed by a cabinet secretary for infrastructure, livelihood, resettlement, social services and support. The infra cluster headed by the department and public works secretary had already submitted its plans and programs while the others are expected to submit theirs in two weeks.
He added that he had already met with labor leaders last week and discussed issues about jobs and livelihood “putting emphasis” on “people’s participation.
The rehab czar also said he they had been adopting a “bottom-up approach” by asking the governors and the Tacloban City mayor to come up with their rehabilitation plans that will be presented to the OPARR for vetting and, if approved by President Noynoy Aquino, will then be implemented.
Cebu and Leyte have already submitted their plans last April 25 and 26, respectively, while Tacloban, Western Samar and Biliran will be scheduled in the next two weeks.
For its part, the Red Cross announced it was continuing its conditional and unconditional cash payout to Yolanda victims as part of its rehabilitation efforts. Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said some P 300 million have already been released to 90 thousand households as part of the Red Cross unconditional payout scheme.
A second scheme involves a conditional payout for livelihood generation, where a family is given ten thousand pesos in two tranches to help it back on its feet again. A cash-for-shelter scheme, on the other hand, grants victims ten thousand pesos for assistance in reconstruction of their homes.
According to Marcel Fortier, head of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines, some 20 percent of the 320 million Swiss francs meant for typhoon Yolanda victims have already been spent in the initial emergency phase. The bulk of the funds are still to be released to the other victims, either through cash payouts or through rehabilitation programs such as the construction of core and permanent shelters.