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The Continuing Resettlement Issues in Tacloban, the Philippines

Written by Jan Robert Go.

It is nearly three years since Super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in November 2013. Resettlement to permanent housing is an ongoing issue in Tacloban, the city that was hit hardest by Yolanda.  Resettlement plans have been dogged by inadequate infrastructure and utility provision. The Philippine government is duty bound to provide adequate housing for Yolanda survivors. However, concerned national and local agencies must also ensure that relocation sites are conducive to the normalisation and betterment of community and family life. Problems such as inadequate housing and clean water have social and political dimensions, which can be seen at household and community levels.

As previously mentioned, the Tacloban City Government provides rations of water via tankers to the resettlement areas. This is the best that the city government can do for now. According to the Tacloban City Community Affairs Office, for the most part, the city heavily relies on the national government, through the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), in order to provide their target 100 litres of water per day per family in resettlement communities. The World Health Organisation recommends 20 litres of water as minimum daily requirement per capita in non-emergency situations.

Alternative resources have been identified, but not all have been allowed. For example, the San Juanico Strait, as identified by the Tacloban City Community Affairs Office, could be a potential source, not only of water but also of livelihood for many resettled families since most of the relocation sites are in northern Tacloban. However, the San Juanico Strait suffers from contamination. According to Oxfam, the strait is contaminated with E. coli bacteria as well as faecal coliform. Its level of contamination is more than 1000 times the tolerable amounts.

The residents resort to the shallow-well system instead. But anecdotes from the residents reveal that the quality of water is not suitable for drinking. Water is said to be cloudy or translucent, with either a rusting smell, perhaps because of the pipes, or fishy. Others chose to use rainwater, which is equally susceptible to contamination.

The water problem is linked to another problem in the resettlement sites—that of waste management. In fact, the high contamination of the Strait is caused by improper solid and human waste disposal. In one relocation site in northern Tacloban, for example, the houses were built near a garbage dumpsite. This poses a threat to health and wellness of the residents in the resettlement area. The mountain of the garbage can easily be seen from the entrance of the village. This produces a foul smell and acids, which are both harmful to human and animal occupants.

Aside from improper waste management, the substandard toilets and sewerage system are partly to blame. Human wastes are dumped into the strait. All of these are a cause of concern especially in terms of public health and the ecosystem as a whole. Cases of water-borne diseases and skin allergies have increased, and malnutrition is projected to increase. The Northern Tacloban Development Project is expected to bring thousands of families into the area. With the current situation, water and waste problems are expected to get worse.

Families and community relationships have been also affected by the problems residents face in their relocation sites. At the level of the household, with an unstable source of income, mothers have had difficulties in budgeting for the family. Family income has been reduced since they have been removed from their original coastal homes. The sea is the basic source of livelihood for fisher folks. There have been self-help groups that assist women and mothers to find alternative sources of income, but these opportunities are often limited, if not absent.

Faced with financial problems, mothers have to borrow money from other sources to pay for their families’ daily expenses. Unfortunately, these mothers do not even have stable sources of income to pay for the borrowed money. According to Philippine Network of Rural Development Institutes (PhilNet-RDI), many families rely on this scheme for daily sustenance. This is notwithstanding interest rates as high as 20% imposed by loaning firms. Also, mothers have cut down on the budget for food and education, which inevitably has longer-term implications. Conflicts within families have also increased. Since mothers need to find alternative sources or line-up in water ration queues, couples often quarrel about unfinished chores at home. According to Council of Yolanda Survivors Association of Tacloban (CYSAT) representative and other reports, this causes an increase in cases of violence against women.

At the level of the community, the rationing of water in villages may have caused conflicts among mothers. According to PhilNet-RDI, mothers compete on who gets their water containers filled first. This is a situation that could create animosity among neighbours and perhaps destroy the human ecology within the new communities.

Recently, Vice President Leni Robredo, who also chairs the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), said that plan of the Duterte administration to impose a ban on conversion of lands may hurt resettlement of Yolanda survivors as well as other disaster-stricken areas. Robredo notes that this ban could hamper the rehabilitation and resettlement efforts of the administration. At the same time, she acknowledges the backlog in the housing and resettlement sector in general and in Yolanda-affected areas in particular. In August this year, the vice president also planned to suspend all government resettlement projects pending a clear policy or program to back it up.

Despite the efforts of the Philippine national and local governments, the issue of resettlement continues to hound the survivors of typhoon Yolanda. It is critical that fundamental issues such as availability of clean and safe water and proper waste management are addressed. The rehabilitation and resettlement efforts of the government and international agencies, whether in the context of Yolanda or any other calamity, must ensure that ‘building back to better’ starts with adequate housing as a stepping stone to meaningful resilience.

Jan Robert R. Go is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He is a researcher with the ESRC/DFID funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook @ Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda. Image credit: CC by DFAT/Flickr

Published inPhilippinesProject Yolanda

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