SAN FERNANDO, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An argument is brewing at Azur and Marilyn Regahal’s modest wooden house, rebuilt using scraps of plywood, corrugated iron sheets and tarpaulin. Typhoon Haiyan has destroyed everything except the concrete foundation.
“We have no income now. We want one of our children, a college student, to stop her studies and find a job so she could contribute,” said Marilyn, who used to run a small business in the coastal village of San Fernando in central Philippines before the storm wiped away much of what they had, including their food stocks and Azur’s fishing boat.
“But she refused and said she wants to continue studying. That’s the difficulty we’re facing now,” Marilyn said, with tears in her eyes.
Three months after the strongest storm on record ever to hit land devastated parts of central Philippines, many of the poor who survived Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, are facing tough decisions like that of the Regahal family as they struggle to rebuild their jobs and income.
The storm, which left close to 9,000 people dead and missing, destroyed the livelihoods of almost 6 million. Of these, 2.6 million were in vulnerable employment and living at or near the poverty line even before the deadly storm, the ILO said.
While the huge humanitarian response that followed Haiyan saved many lives, the poorest are being left out of the recovery effort, international aid agency Oxfam said in a statement released on Thursday.
“Failure to help the poorest get back to work could reverse the progress made so far,” Oxfam warned.
In the farming and fishing district of San Fernando in Samar Province, most families who spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation are now completely reliant on aid. Rice crops will not be harvested until April and all 95 registered fishing boats were damaged.
“We don’t go to the market because we don’t have enough money,” Azur said, sitting on a small stool in their living room. “We just depend on the relief which still comes about every three weeks,” he said.
“We manage with what we have,” added Marilyn.
DEPENDENT ON AID
Azur’s main income is from fishing, and he also grows rice on his small plot. He has not been able to go back to sea but managed to plant the December paddy in time using seeds provided by the Department of Agriculture.
However, they are not hybrid seeds that most farmers in San Fernando use, and he believes their half-hectare farm will see a much lower yield, only about 10 sacks compared to the usual 18. Hybrid seeds tend to produce more but they are more costly as farmers must buy new seed every year.
“The gains from using them are more than their cost,” Azur said, adding that he hopes the seeds he has recently received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would produce a better yield. These seeds are certified but they are not hybrid either.
On a late January morning, dozens of men and women of all ages, including Azur and Marilyn, were sitting under tarpaulins making fishing nets.
A Filipino news network had donated 20,000 metres of net material and each registered fisherman would receive 400 metres, said Lito Gadaingan, vice-president of the Fisherfolk Association in the village. Boats and more nets would arrive later, he added.
The whole village was abuzz, excited about the prospect of going back to sea and earning some money. “We are hoping aid will continue until the boats come and we can go back into the sea. Then we can buy food ourselves,” said Azur.
Not all the typhoon-affected villages are as lucky. In San Roque district in Tanauan, Leyte Province, only about 20 boats out of around 300 have gone back to sea, said Victoriano Mansalay, a 53-year-old who has been fishing since he was in his teens.
Those who have got back out to sea have done so under their own initiative, like Victoriano’s nephew, Rodel. He borrowed 4,000 pesos ($88) from a seafood merchant to repair his boat and asked to use his uncle’s engine, which survived the storm. He is now repaying 100 pesos ($2.20) a day.
Standing near the devastated coastline still littered with fallen trees, twisted metal and other debris, the older Mansalay criticised the government for failing to help them.
“The government only came to give us something on January 24 but it’s not enough,” he said.
They were given only two pieces of plywood when they need at least four pieces of good lumber to build a boat, and the wood was too short, Mansalay complained.
“Some of us use the damaged boats but we catch just enough to eat, not to sell,” he said. “If only the government had given us enough materials, we could go back to fishing and wouldn’t have to rely on relief goods.”