Tacloban builds back better after Typhoon Yolanda
By Maya Igarashi Wood, Emergency Officer for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific
Saturday, 8 February 2014, marked exactly three months after Typhoon Yolanda. On this day, after months of following the relief efforts from a distance at UNICEF's regional office in Bangkok, I was fortunate to witness the change in Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit areas, and talk to people affected by the typhoon.
I was nervous on the plane journey to Tacloban, thinking about what would be standing - or not - in front of me when I land. To my surprise, as we approached the ground, many houses seemed intact. It was only when we left the airport that I noticed more and more shelters, damaged buildings and houses with roofs covered by tarpaulin. However, the roads were busy with traffic, children were walking to school in uniforms, and shops were selling food and other products.
One of the purposes of my visit to Tacloban was to attend a meeting between UNICEF and local governments from affected areas to jointly plan our typhoon response and recovery. One of the participants from the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council of in Leyte was there before, during and right after Typhoon Yolanda hit.
He monitored the path of the approaching typhoon. At first, he called for the voluntary evacuation of the population. Then, when it became clear that the typhoon was approaching with much stronger power than expected, he ordered the compulsory evacuation of everyone in coastal barangays (villages).
He was doing all he could for the people in his municipality. But at the same time, he was worried about his own wife and children, including a less than 10-month-old daughter who he had left at home thinking it was far enough from the coast. "It was my biggest regret - I should have evacuated my family first much further from the sea," he recalled.
After the typhoon passed, he managed to reach home by walking through the debris. His house was damaged but his family was safe. His son was crying but he felt relieved seeing the smile of his youngest daughter. "I will not repeat the same mistake for my family and municipality ever again," he said to me firmly.
On the following day, I went to Dulag, a town about one hour from Tacloban City, where the parents of my colleague, Ms. Manocsoc live. As we drove along the coast, I saw damaged factories and buildings, and people living in tents. The most shocking scene was the vast areas of coconut plantations with many palm trees uprooted or broken just a few meters from the ground. Coconut farming is an important source of livelihood for many people in the area.
Her father Nestor told us that in his land, only about 30 out of 130 coconut trees survived. He wasn't certain whether he would plant new trees because "I am already retired and it will take six to eight years for the trees to grow and about 15 years to harvest good coconuts." Meanwhile, he was chopping up the fallen trees for the wood, and drying coconut husks and shells for additional income.
He was relatively lucky, as he still had other sources of income, but he was concerned about neighbours who rely solely on coconut farming. "They are struggling to earn a living," he said. During our visit, some of his neighbours were helping to build the floor of his garage in exchange for small cash.
UNICEF has partnered with local governments to support them in rebuilding systems for education, health, nutrition, child protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), so that the communities to which they belong will be more resilient to future emergencies.
I spoke to UNICEF Education Programme Specialist Psyche Olayvar about the challenges and how UNICEF can help address them. She said that, while local governments are in charge of Early Childhood Care and Development programmes for children aged 3 to 5, they have limited resources to fully restore day care centres. Many damaged schools are not safe to hold classes and some are still used as shelters for displaced people.
To make sure that children can go back to school as soon as possible UNICEF and partners have provided temporary learning spaces and education supplies. Beyond that, teachers are trained on how to provide psychosocial support to children to help them overcome the trauma of the past months.
Schools also serve as places for promoting good health and hygiene behaviour to minimise immediate risks of any disease outbreak. Emergency drills and risk assessment with children's participation prepare the communities for any future emergencies.
I only had a few days to visit Tacloban and its surroundings. I returned to Manila with mixed feelings. While I was impressed by the rapid recovery to normal daily life, and by the energy and smile of local people, I could see the long and difficult road still ahead. All of us – communities including children, the Government, UNICEF and our partner organisations – need to keep working together to build back a society and systems that are more resilient.