COMPOSTELA VALLEY/DAVAO ORIENTAL, - More than two months after Typhoon Bopha hit the eastern coast of Mindanao Province in the southern Philippines some 198,000 families are still trying to repair their homes, even in the midst of daily monsoon rains.
“There is a sense that natural disasters hit, and that’s it,” said Tom Bamforth, the coordinator of aid groups working on housing after Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, struck on 4 December, displacing close to one million residents. “But the problem is,” Bamforth continued, “it has been two months of constant rains. This is still an ongoing disaster.”
Entire small towns, known locally as `barangays’, were submerged following flooding on 19 January which affected almost 40,000 people in Davao city (the country’s second largest) as well as the provinces of Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley, which were both affected earlier by the Category 5 typhoon (winds that reach 250km/hour).
“We have never had something like this in our lifetimes,” said Sustenio Sulag, the elected leader of Panansalan in Compostela Valley, 150km north of Davao city. All 215 family homes were partially or completely destroyed by the typhoon in December.
Typhoon Bopha/Pablo was the sixteenth to hit the archipelago in 2012, but the deadliest worldwide that year, claiming, thus far, close to 1,100 lives.
Emergency housing kits - valued at some US$1,000 each and donated by the UK-based NGO Shelter Box, and containing emergency tents, blankets and basic tools - lie unopened in front of a number of homes. “We don’t need those. Residents need something sturdier to get us through the rains,” said Sulag.
Local government officials sent 160 of the 215 requested corrugated iron sheets to repair roofing, but Sulag said he did not want to distribute them until there was at least one sheet per family, to prevent accusations of preferential treatment.
Meanwhile, residents were patching together rooftops from fallen coconut timber, and blue tarpaulins (donated). Aid groups and the government estimate 95 percent of families recovering from the typhoon continue living in the remains of their houses.
“What we are seeing is people building back worse with salvaged materials,” said Bamforth.
As of 28 January the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) calculated that the typhoon had completely destroyed nearly 75,000 homes and partially damaged another 123,000.
One of the hardest hit municipalities was Baganga in Davao Oriental Province, which borders the Philippine Sea (Pacific Ocean). In one of the municipality’s more remote `barangays’, Binondo, 90 percent of the homes were completely destroyed, according to `barangay’ leader Ronnie Morales, who said housing repairs and reconstruction of the community’s two primary schools were his top concerns. Welda Morales Sabas, a teacher in one of the damaged schools, said her students simply no longer attend when there are strong winds.
The government’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau is conducting geohazard risk assessments in affected provinces, colour coding sites to indicate high, medium or low risk to flooding and landslides. The government is interpreting high-risk areas as “no-build” zones, said DSWD’s housing focal point for typhoon-affected areas, Elena Labrador. “The government will not tolerate people living in no-build zones,” she told IRIN.
When asked what the options were for people living in high-risk areas, she said they are encouraged to move to new sites, which are now being finalized, or will be given materials to construct in an area they choose, which must be classified as safe - a definition still evolving based on ongoing risk assessments.
Construction at relocation sites is expected to begin by March in Davao Oriental, she said, following a meeting with the province’s governor on 8 February. She confirmed that families living in any no-build zone do not qualify for the government’s emergency shelter assistance of $245 (10,000 pesos).
Bamforth said agencies working on housing advocate relocation only as a last resort, due to problems that may arise from separating people from their farms and livelihoods. Instead, aid workers are calling for, when possible, measures to lessen risk to natural hazards in areas labelled high-risk.
Special attention must be given to relocation from areas recognized as the ancestral domain of indigenous communities, noted the UN Refugee Agency, which estimates up to 80 percent of those affected by the typhoon are indigenous peoples.