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Lack of funds and red tape stall rehousing of Haiyan survivors in Philippines

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 25 Apr 2014 09:18 GMT
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A typhoon survivor smokes a cigarette while resting by his partially-destroyed house, in Tacloban city, central Philippines, December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
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CEBU CITY, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly six months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated central Philippines, lack of funds and red tape are stalling efforts to rehouse the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes.

The slow release of funds to rebuild homes or relocate survivors, complex rules for access to aid and complicated land regulations have undermined the recovery from the biggest storm ever to make landfall.

Local officials in the northern part of Cebu province have urged the government to release more funds to enable them to buy land to rehouse those left without shelter.

When Haiyan struck on Nov. 8 last year, it left almost 9,000 people dead or missing and 1.1 million homes damaged.

At least 100,000 people are still in need of housing assistance, according to local mayors in Cebu province who discussed the issue at a meeting this month of government agencies and international organisations such as the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Of that number, at least 15,000 people need to be relocated, while 85,000 require assistance to rebuild their homes.

Local authorities are running out of money to buy land for those who need to be relocated to safer ground, said Mayor Augusto Corro of Daanbantayan, a municipality that was hit by Haiyan.

“Funding for housing amounts to more than half a million US dollars,” the mayor said at the meeting. Some local authorities were trapped in a vicious circle, however. They could not use the funds for house building until they had purchased the relocation sites, but they did not have cash to buy the land.

In San Remigio municipality, the government used up all its funds to buy relocation sites in areas close to roads and schools and connected to power and water lines, said Mayor Mariano Martinez.

When they ran out of cash, the mayor said, he urged big land owners in San Remigio to donate land for displaced survivors of the storm. But much of the land offered was not suitable for new housing developments.

“Big land owners will donate land,” Mayor Martinez said. “But the areas they will donate are not ideal for housing.”

PROTECTED AREAS

Other ideal relocation sites could not be used because they were designated as protected areas or “no-build zones” by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the mayors said.

In theory, the national government can make exemptions and reclassify the plots so that they can be used for housing. But Rex Gerona, mayor of Tudela, said the process was not easy.

He said that in the Camotes Islands where his municipality is located, the Office of the President had vetoed the reclassification of protected areas to usable land.

In Santa Fe municipality in Cebu's Bantayan Islands, residents who had been moved to relocation sites had to make payments to the government to fund disaster preparedness programmes, said Mayor Jose Esgana.

Each household that has been allotted 60 square metres of land was required to pay just over $11 a month for every square metre for the next five years.

“The money needs to return to the government since it will be used in preparation for the next calamity,” Mayor Esgana said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned this week that the Philippines is critically short of evacuation shelters in some of the most typhoon-vulnerable parts of the country.

Of the 634 buildings designated by the government as shelters on Samar Island prior to Haiyan, including schools, churches and community centres, only 8 percent are still standing. Over 400 other buildings need significant rehabilitation before they can be used, while a quarter were completely destroyed, says the report, conducted by the IOM’s office in Guiuan.

LAND TITLES

The National Housing Authority (NHA) has earmarked almost US $6,000 to help each household which had lost a dwelling to build a new house, but first the householders needed to show that they owned land, or they would be relocated by the local government to a new site, said Hermes Jude Juntillo, a senior engineer with the NHA.

In Sogod municipality in Cebu, survivors were struggling to secure financial assistance to rebuild houses because they do not have titles to their land, said Mayor Lisa Streegan.

She said her constituents only have tax declarations on their land, which did not qualify them for assistance under government rules.

National rules also disqualified households that had already begun repairs or those that earned more than $250 a month.

The mayors expressed hope that some of the bureaucracy would be ironed out and funds released more quickly.

“There is a very good collaboration between the players (on the ground),” said Baltazar Tribunalo Jr, head of the provincial task force on rehabilitation and recovery. He said he urged the national government to take responsibility to provide support.

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