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It’s Not Just About Building and Providing Houses: Building Resilient and Secure Communities in Resettlement Areas

Written by Maria Ela L. Atienza.

Over three years ago super typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) devastated Visayan provinces in the Philippines. The provision of permanent housing and resettlement for victims who lost their homes in the so-called “no build zones” or risky coastal areas remains a problem. In early November this year, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros sought a legislative inquiry into governmental action regarding health and sanitation issues in resettlement areas. On the third anniversary of Yolanda last November 8, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte promised Tacloban that the backlog will be met and gave a deadline to the National Housing Authority (NHA) to finish all housing projects this December. Early this December, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the administration has successfully relocated 827 of 911 Yolanda families to their new homes.   

In our project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda”, our key informant interviews, focus groups discussions, and surveys reveal many issues related to housing. The issue for all stakeholders is not just about finding a space for resettlement and providing houses for families displaced by the typhoon. The whole process involves comprehensive planning that goes beyond infrastructure development. It involves providing adequate basic facilities like clean water, proper toilets, electricity, roads, public services like health centers and schools, and a conducive environment where families and new communities can thrive, people can access sustainable livelihood opportunities, and children can grow in a safe, nurturing and resilient environment. There are   reports that in some areas in Tacloban, people are opting to stay in areas at risk like dangerous roads and highways in Colorado, even if they are entitled to resettlement housing because of these fears.

Cali Transitional Shelter

The Cali Transitional Shelter was the first area built to house families that were to be relocated to the permanent resettlement areas. It was a project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with support from a number of foreign governments’ aid agencies. There was a time when it hosted about 115 families or 455 persons. According to UN Habitat people, it used to be a very lively community with children’s facilities and a community information center.

But when we visited, it was very quiet with many of the huts abandoned, with the exception of 14 families residing there. According to some of these families they transferred from their coastal homes to Cali just last September with the assistance of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). They are waiting to be transferred to permanent housing.

The housing units do not have individual toilets and bathrooms; there are common or public toilet facilities. There is no electricity and water is hard to come by. Most of the adults in the area say that they do not have regular jobs because they need money for transportation to go to the center of Tacloban to find work. The children do not go to school and families find it hard to find food.

Still, the families are hopeful. One man told me, “Sabi ni Presidente Duterte kahapon, mabibigyan na kami ng bahay. Sana nga.” (President Duterte said yesterday that we will be given houses. I hope so.)

Lions Village

The Lions Village is a permanent resettlement site with the property belonging to the Tacloban City government and the housing units built by the Lions Club International Foundation. The housing units are made of concrete with their own toilets and bath. However, the water supply is also not regular as they have to wait for the city government trucks to deliver water or they have to buy expensive distilled water from private companies. There is also no electricity in the area.

Mang Sandy, one of the beneficiaries of the housing units, is luckier than others. He works in the nearby construction site where another resettlement area is to be built. The main area of his house is also a mini sari-sari store, as his family is one of the recipients of a livelihood project that gave capital to start a small business. However, he cannot offer cold drinks as the place has no electricity to power a cooler or a small refrigerator.

Noting the lack of electricity, he said that sometimes, life was better when they were in the nearby Cali transitional shelter. This was because the huts in Cali are cooler and you can sleep better at night, unlike in their current unit with concrete walls where it gets very hot at night.

GMA Kapuso Village and Habitat for Humanity Housing Sites

GMA Kapuso Village in Tacloban is the most developed resettlement area in the city. The GMA Kapuso Foundation was able to provide about 400 concrete houses in Tacloban. These units have electricity. Several classrooms are already operational and the construction of additional classrooms is ongoing. A multipurpose center is also being built so that small businesses can be set up there. Together with the DSWD, the Foundation is also helping organize the community to develop a sense of camaraderie and cooperation.

There are remaining problems, however. Residents are also dependent on water brought by the trucks of the city government. Residents said that the supply is not enough for all the families in the area. They are forced to buy distilled or mineral water from private entities. Sustainable livelihood is still an issue as people complain about the transportation costs to and from the city center where more work is available. Paying for water and transportation compete with their budget for food.

The GMA Kapuso Village residents also face another problem. Sanitation is an issue especially when it rains. This is because the village is near a dumpsite.

Just beside the GMA Kapuso Village is the Habitat for Humanity permanent housing site. The houses are also made of concrete but according to Arturo Gulong, the homeowners’ association head, sustainable livelihood opportunities and water are also major problems.

Water is delivered daily to resettlement sites. Each family is entitled to have five water containers filled for each delivery. However, even if the trucks come every day to deliver water, each family will not get an adequate supply. Each truck can only supply water for 14 families but each village has more than 200 families. This explains the severe water supply problem in all the resettlement areas in Tacloban. Long-term planning will require developing sustainable and clean water supplies in the resettlement areas. Water tankers should only be temporary. A long-term sustainable solution will require large-scale infrastructure development.

Rehabilitation work after disasters will take more than just finding resettlement areas and giving housing units. This has to be accompanied by comprehensive planning for support in the area of infrastructures, safe environment, basic services, community building, and sustainable livelihood opportunities. If these issues are not addressed then the new settlements may become unsustainable. Disaster relief is not just about emergency response it is about building sustainable and resilient communities over the long term. This presents fundamental financial and logistical challenges for governmental agencies and international donors.

Maria Ela L. Atienza is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She is Co-Investigator of the ESRC/DFID funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook as Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda. Image credit:  Authors own photograph

Published inAsiaAsia and PacificProject Yolanda

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