MANILA— Six months after the most powerful typhoon on record pummeled the central Philippines and left more than 6,200 people dead, officials say having regular work and a permanent home is still a priority for thousands of survivors.
Jessica Darantinao, a coconut farmer in northern Leyte province, says when super typhoon Haiyan rampaged its way through the central part of the country, the coconut trees she farmed were completely ruined. These trees take at least four years to mature.
Darantinao told VOA in a phone interview, her family could no longer sell coconut kernels for making oil. She says non-government agencies gave them seedlings for other crops.
“We wanted to shift to some faster-growing crops," she said. "But now we don’t have anything to plant those with. Before, our village used to share just a few farm tools for other kinds of crops, then they got lost [in the storm].”
Darantinao says to supplement her family income, she used to work as a household helper, but even that work is scarce because Haiyan flattened or damaged all the houses in her town. She says she does not want to keep relying on relief aid to survive.
The head of Social Welfare and Development says the department continues to distribute 14-days’ supply of staple foods to more than 280,000 families. It is now funding a “cash for assets” program, which pays the daily minimum wage for residents to clear debris from areas that they need for their work, such as blocked irrigation systems.
The storm affected more than 14 million people and obliterated or damaged more than a million homes. The government’s rehabilitation coordinator says about 220,000 families need permanent homes in so-called “safe zones.” But Secretary Panfillo Lacson said in a briefing Wednesday there is only so much land available that is not prone to flooding, storm surges or lying on a fault line.
Officials say so far some 3,400 families are in temporary housing units or “bunkhouses” while thousands of others remain in makeshift shelters covered with tarp. Agencies are also on alert for disease outbreaks with people living at such close quarters.
David Carden, who heads the Philippine office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says the initial response to the disaster went well, with getting relief to people in need and clearing away tons of debris. Now, he says the country has to “get the recovery moving.”
“The scale of this disaster is enormous and certainly to get people into more durable shelter, to ensure that the most affected people have livelihoods, these are areas that will remain a challenge,” he said.
More challenges ahead
The U.N. says it has received just a little more than half of the $788 million needed for recovery and rebuilding in the first year after the storm.
Carden says his agency is concerned about the rainy season, which begins next month. He believes the government and aid agencies will be able to place residents into transitional shelters that will be able to withstand storms of “of a certain level.” However, whether they could handle something as strong as Haiyan is “certainly doubtful.”