TACLOBAN, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Immediately after super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, Marilyn Ocena gathered her family of 11 and left Tacloban.
Traumatised by the typhoon, they wanted to get as far from the sea as possible, and walked for almost a day to reach a town further north.
Now the 47-year-old wonders whether it would have been better if they had all perished in the storm that hit the coast on Nov. 8. “At least then we would be together as a family,” she said, welling up in tears at the prospect of her family having to split up before long.
The Ocenas, back in Tacloban after failing to find jobs elsewhere, want to go back to fishing. But the government has declared the coastal area where they used to live and work a ‘no-build’ zone after huge waves whipped up by Haiyan swept away many coastal communities.
The Philippines has an average of 20 typhoons a year and the government has ruled that in future no one may live less than 40 metres from the shoreline.
Experts agree that there should be no human settlements in coastal areas and on riverbanks, and Haiyan survivors acknowledge the dangers.
Yet a lack of information on when and where resettlement will take place have left thousands of people worried and uncertain about their future. Many are concerned there will be no jobs at resettlement sites and they have received little help in finding alternative livelihoods.
Recent complaints that temporary shelters being built by the government are overpriced and substandard have added to the survivors’ woes.
DEPENDENT ON AID
Haiyan, possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall, killed nearly 8,000 people and damaged 1.1 million houses. Over 4 million people remain displaced.
Many of the displaced, like the Ocenas, are relying on handouts to get by. The Ocenas fear they will be relocated somewhere inland, far from the only life and jobs they have known.
“My husband says he has to live by the coast to continue working but myself and the kids could go to the resettlement place,” Ocena said, standing outside the tent they’re sharing with another family.
“That’s not good. It means we’ll be separated,” she added.
A few minutes down the road lives Richard Padelia, in one of 40 tents provided by the United Nations. The 34-year-old father of four used to live across the street, but his home was destroyed and where it stood is now a ‘no-build’ zone.
He used to be a rental car driver but lost his vehicle in the storm and has been unable to find a full-time job since.
“I try to be a driver for other people’s cars but that’s only for one day a week and I get only 300 pesos ($6.70),” he said. Like the Ocenas, his family depends on aid, and he does not know when or where they will move to.
The government, which has been building temporary shelters to house the displaced - including those whose homes are in ‘no-build’ zones - has denied allegations of corruption after media reports said the bunkhouses, as they’re known locally, may cost much less than the government’s price tag of 959,360 Pesos ($21,465).
Each shelter has 24 units and each unit, measuring 8.64 square metres, can house one family. The shared toilets, shower and cooking area are at the back.
At one site Thomson Reuters Foundation visited, a worker said the roofs of some units had leaked during heavy rains in the past weeks. At another, the rains have left green, stagnant water under the units.
Some survivors, like Marvin Tabataña, weary of uncertainty about the future, are starting to rebuild in ’no-build zones’ despite the risk of being removed.
Tabatana, a 33-year-old tricycle driver, is rebuilding his family’s single-storey home, very close to the shoreline, surrounded by debris left by the typhoon.
Tabataña, his wife and their three children are currently living with another family on higher ground, but the makeshift space is too small and it could be months before they have to move, he said. Meanwhile, they need a proper roof over their heads.
It cost him 20,000 pesos ($440) to buy the materials, using money he received from Tzu Chi, a Taiwanese Buddhist Foundation, and part of the cash he and his wife received for clearing debris. He’s doing the building work himself to save labour costs and hopes to finish it in a week.
Marvin’s neighbour, Junisha Yu, who has lived on the coast for 36 years, has different worries. She has heard that the houses at the resettlement site chosen for them are too small and there are landslides.
“But we cannot do anything if the national government wants to force us out,” she sighed.