The foul odour and sight of the piles of debris that littered the side of the road caused the chatter in the car to fall eerily silent as we made our way through the devastation from Western to Eastern Samar in the Philippines. It was six days after Typhoon Haiyan struck.
When I first saw the destruction my heart broke – I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. The storm – one of the worst on record – had ravished my homeland and killed over 5000. People were silent, motionless. But the pain was etched on their faces, clear for all to see.
I travelled to Guiuan, Eastern Samar, which bore the brunt of the 8 November storm. Winds of up to 305 km per hour had torn homes and lives to shreds. The region was one of the poorest in the country even before Haiyan hit. Around 60 per cent of the population live in poverty and – many rely on coconut farming and fishing to earn enough to make ends meet. Yet as the waves, some higher than the coconut trees, swept in from the sea, they tore fishing boats and trees to shreds, leaving thousands without livelihoods. A total of 5.9 million people in the Philippines have seen their sources of income lost or disrupted, according to the UN.
But although many had lost loved ones and their homes were reduced to rubble, their sheer determination to bounce back and get on with it, using whatever resources they can, was remarkable even then.
It has now been three months since Haiyan. Homes are slowly being repaired with donated tools and materials, such as tarpaulin sheets and ropes. Debris has been cleared, leaving roads more accessible. Most communities have essential goods like jerry cans, tarpaulin sheets and blankets, and in some areas close to commercial centres, people are starting to get back to normality as small shops pop up selling much needed foods such as rice and canned meats.There is still a long way to go. The majority of those who live in Eastern Samar don’t have the money, or the means to earn enough to buy enough food to feed their families.
The price of goods is high and volatile making the situation worse for many of the poor and vulnerable. Although people want to be self-reliant, it’s not possible yet, and many remain dependent on food distributions.
Healthcare remains a concern for roughly a third of the population; sexual violence is on the rise.
For these communities living at the end of dirt tracks, many kilometres from the nearest town or city, it will be a long time before their lives resemble those of before.
In the immediate aftermath, the organization I work for – Coastal Core, a partner of Christian Aid – supplied communities with food and other items. Now it is starting to support communities through cash-for-work schemes, giving people the opportunity to help the clear up and rebuilding process by preparing felled coconut trees to make timber for shelter repairs.
It also hands out grants to allow people to repair or restart their occupations. This will, in turn, provide them with the means to buy food for their families and materials to mend their homes.
Other priority areas now include supporting fishing communities to repair their boats, introducing community gardening for growing vegetables, and restoring vital services that so many of us take for granted, such as clean water supplies. Wounds are not yet healed, homes remain in the coastal danger zone, and the means for local people to make a living are still very limited. Much more needs to be done to support communities to fully recover. In the long term, people will face frequent typhoons, flooding and erratic weather patterns. Learning more about climate change, how to build homes that are more likely to withstand storms, and what to do in emergency situations – especially in the more remote areas – are all ways to help guard against the challenges ahead.
In the meantime, we will continue to give people the tools they need to re-build their lives and communities.
Maila Quiring is a project officer with Coastal CORE, which is funded by Christian Aid. She works with communities in Samar to help them prepare for disasters and adapt to a changing climate.