Manila Braces Vainly for Another Typhoon

The first major typhoon is bearing down on the Philippines with winds expected at up 185 km per hour and anticipated to rip directly through Central Luzon, hitting Metro Manila, Laguna and other metropolitan areas, more than 100,000 families are reportedly being evacuated from low lying and coastal areas. Manila and other areas expect heavy flooding.

But despite the fact that the country is pounded regularly by up to 30 tropical storms a year, preparation remains woefully inadequate, and recovery is even more inadequate. In 2013, a total of 31 tropical storms blasted the Philippines, 13 of them turning into typhoons and five of those metamorphosing into super typhoons, killing 6,825 people and doing a total of US$22.8 billion in damage.

Cleanup is still tardy from Super Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, a Category 5 storm with winds gusting up to 300 km/hr which devastated the islands of Samar and Leyte last November, killing more than 6,200 people. Because rebuilding has been so slow, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people have simply packed up and left for Manila, straining that city’s already strained resources.

But the benighted residents of Tacloban and other Leyte cities are hardly alone. In 2013, a full year after Typhoon Bopha, known as Pablo in the Philippines, had killed more than 1,200 people on the southern island of Mindanao, damaged or destroyed 230,000 houses and literally wiped an entire village off the map, only 600 homes had been completed in the provinces of Agusan del Sur, the Compostela Valley and Davao. Another 300 were under construction and 200 more had been planned.

As Asia Sentinel reported on June 12, seven months on from Haiyan, access to learning remains a challenge for far too many children.The typhoon damaged 2,500 schools and affected an estimated 1.4 million schoolchildren. More than 500 day care centers were completely damaged and more than 2,000 suffered partial damage.

But “classroom repairs are still a major problem,” Manan Kotak, an education specialist for UNICEF told the UN news agency IRIN. As of May, more than 4,200 learning spaces were still in tents or temporary structures.

Today, progress made during recovery stages could be undermined without job creation strategies to secure stability beyond short-term livelihood projects, according to aid agencies and government officials.

“We have moved on from life-saving food assistance - critical at the onset of any emergency. We need to focus on livelihood creation that will ensure food security in the long term,” said Dipayan Bhattacharyya, in charge of food security for the UN World Food Program in the Philippines.

Eight months after the storm tore through Tacloban and across into Cebu, “people are clamoring for two things: jobs and shelter,” said Fe Kagahistian, cash coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Manila. “Typhoon survivors now need jobs that will go beyond short-term cash for work programs. They need jobs that will allow them to provide for their basic needs with a little extra to save for the future,” she said.

After Haiyan/Yolanda, the economic and social sector bore 93 percent of the infrastructure damage and suffered approximately US$3.3 billion in production and income losses.

“Building back the trade and industry sector is not that simple,” Alfred Romualdez, mayor of Tacloban City, the urban area hardest hit by Haiyan, told IRIN despite the fact that Tacloban is a trade and economic artery of the central Philippines, serving as a gateway for the archipelago and linking Manila to major cities like Cebu and Davao.

Of 7.4 million people employed in various service, agricultural and manufacturing industries in the region affected by the typhoon, many still haven’t returned to work.

“Manufacturing companies are only getting their insurance claims now. At the same time, we need to rebuild energy and water systems to keep these companies operational,” said Romualdez. Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Tacloban have been shuttered since the typhoon.

“These companies each employ about 2,000 people. They are major job providers,” said Romualdez, adding that factory operations are scheduled to start in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

Other organizations are looking at out-of-the box ways to provide employment for typhoon survivors.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR), a special unit created to oversee disaster recovery in the 171 municipalities and four major regions known as “Yolanda Avenue”, has partnered with private companies in an “Enrolment To Employment” program, which provides skills training and then matches graduates with relevant prospective employers.

Alongside rebuilding existing businesses, plans are under way to attract renewed investments into the region, creating jobs and bolstering resilience among residents.

“We are exploring [how to make] use of special economic zones in certain parts of Tacloban together with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA),” said Butch Meily, president of the Philippines Disaster Recovery Foundation, a group of private sector corporations that work with the government and international aid organizations on disaster recovery. Businesses operating in special economic zones will enjoy fiscal incentives such as tax breaks and income tax holidays during the first few years of business.

Small to medium enterprises comprise about 99 percent of all businesses in the country, employing an estimated 69 percent of the labor force. The government categorizes businesses based on assets and employee numbers - for example, a small enterprise has between 10 and 99 employees, and a medium one between 100 and 199.

“We hope that this will serve as a trigger to revive the economic industries that will create sustainable employment in the region,” said Meily.

With reporting by IRIN, a service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs