MANILA— The latest tallies of the human toll from Typhoon Haiyan are a daunting preview of the challenges ahead. Thirteen million people have been affected, four million of them displaced, and one million homes have been destroyed. Meanwhile, 2.5 million individuals now rely on food aid and around 7,000 people have been confirmed as dead or still missing.
President Benigno Aquino had set a target of “zero casualties” as the storm bore down on the Philippines, but as the country reeled in the first few chaotic days after the storm, the government came under criticism for not doing enough to assess the extent of the devastation and get aid moving.
Many people may have had the impression “the government was not doing anything” for the first few days, acknowledged presidential spokesman Edward Lacierda in a VOA interview.
“We are an archipelago,” said Lacierda, a member of the cabinet of President Aquino. “We had to make sure that everything was done in the proper way, not to mention the fact that really this storm surge, the effect on Tacloban was quite huge and devastating.”
Corruption Concerns for Recovery Effort
As parts of the country turn to rebuilding, Philippine and international agencies say that the emergency tempo of the relief effort in the central part of the country will need to continue for 18 months.
There are concerns that the Philippines' notorious corruption could skim off resources and hamper the long-term recovery. However, President Aquino has made fighting graft a focus of his administration and hopes to reassure donors with top-level oversight.
Just three government agencies will handle all of the donated funds, and high ranking officials, including Lacierda, will track spending and publish accounting reports online.
The government's recovery plan, supported by the World Bank, is to be submitted Wednesday to President Aquino. The bank has already announced it has raised nearly $1 billion to support relief and reconstruction.
The 67-member-nation Asian Development Bank, headquartered in Manila, is kicking in an additional $500 million emergency loan for reconstruction.
Rebuild or Relocate Vulnerable Communities?
As the Philippines prepares to rebuild, specialists are raising concerns about rebuilding along some shorelines that are particularly vulnerable to destructive storms and the effects of climate change, a quandary other countries in the region faced after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
“We’ll have to do the assessments,” explained ADB vice president Stephen Groff. “But the answer to that question may very well be, ‘no,’ that some communities may need to be moved. And if you look at what happened in Aceh and some areas around the East Asian tsunami, indeed some of those communities were relocated. And that is part of a longer term solution at risk mitigation,” said Groff.
Presidential spokesman Lacierda said the Department of Public Works “will ensure what structures can be built, what areas we can build on and to force people not to build in areas that are not tenable.”
It is a question not of if, but rather of when the Philippines will get hit with another devastating natural disaster. The consensus in Manila is that the only good that can come out of this latest national calamity is learning lessons that will help mitigate the destruction from the next one.