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A year after Haiyan – still waiting, still hoping

Tacloban City after Haiyan

Tacloban City was devasted by Super Typhoon Haiyan. International Labour Organization under a Creative Commons Licence

I remember it now as I remembered it then. The world went boom and, for many, came to an end. A typhoon named Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on 8 November 2013.

Today, as then, my thoughts are there, in the province of Leyte in the southern part of the country, where almost 10,000 people died and thousands are still missing.

Stories of tears and prayers

Norma, a single mother who works as a domestic helper, remembers the nightmare, still as vivid as it was during the first hour. Norma hails from Leyte; she was born and bred there. She cried night after night after the typhoon. All communication lines were down. There was no way of knowing if her 14-year-old son, or her mother and father, with whom she had left her child, were still alive. Or if their makeshift house, with its tattered wooden roof, had made it through the storm surge.

She was 600 kilometres away in Manila when it happened, earning a living for her only son and the rest of her clan back home. Days passed and still she heard nothing. There was no word, nothing on the television or on the radio to say what had happened in their far-flung village in Carigara, Leyte.

She could not sleep; sometimes she forgot to eat. If she did manage to fall asleep, there were nightmares of a sea rising and wiping out a town. She could not go home, not yet anyway, even if she wanted to, because she had heard stories of riots and looting and destruction as those left behind struggled to survive.

And so she waited. And waited some more. After three weeks, she finally heard the news: her family was safe but their house was destroyed.

The news was not easy to take, but it was much better than the stories of the thousands who had lost everything and everyone.

Haiyan was all that and more.

Rebuilding lives

One year on, the government is still rebuilding a province that was wiped out but the reconstruction is way too slow, dragged down by politics and corruption, say many of the survivors.

The government still needs to find suitable land for at least 14,500 people who were promised new homes in areas that are safer and further away from the coastal areas where residents are vulnerable to another environmental catastrophe.

According to government statistics, about 3,000 people are still living in tents in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte. The tents were supposed to be temporary, says the city mayor Alfred Romualdez, nephew of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. He blames the delay on a lack of suitable land to build houses that can withstand winds of 250 kilometres per hour.

‘One year after typhoon Haiyan, we are back – but only about 50 per cent,’ he said in a report by Reuters.

Climate change disaster

Tragically, Haiyan is unlikely to be the last devastating typhoon to hit the Philippines, or any other country, as the global climate crisis intensifies.

The result is that more destructive storms and similar environmental catastrophes are bound to happen.

‘Scientists have warned for decades that pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has and will continue to cause global average temperatures to rise and the result will be more and more extreme weather events,’ says Kristin Casper, a Legal Counsel for Campaigns and Actions at Greenpeace International in an article on the changing climate.

The culprit? The entire capitalist system and its greed for profits by making consumers consume more and more.

The result is an increasingly dirty world that is wreaking extreme pollution on the environment.

To borrow the words of Filipino documentary photographer Jes Aznar in his essay ‘Consumed’, poor countries like the Philippines are once again on the frontline of things.

‘Indeed, we are nothing but a market for surplus goods and capital, an assimilator of hegemonic culture, and an unwilling victim of the effects of greenhouse gases produced by industries. Capitalism’s relentless need to produce more products and profit has finally come to terms with the striking reality – we consume and become consumed, and the great industrialization’s effect on the environment has and will give a huge blow to poorer countries like this one,’ says Aznar, who covered the wrath of Haiyan when it struck a year ago.

Meantime, ‘at the ground zero of this realization, people are still trying to rebuild, with a majority still preoccupied with survival and the will to move on,’ he says.

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