By: IRIN

In the weeks after super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda devastated the central Philippine islands of Samar, Leyte and Cebu last November, the country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared a “40-meter no-build zone” along the coastlines of Eastern Samar and Leyte, two of the worst-hit areas, to forestall the damage of monstrous waves that battered the coasts.

But today, there is concern that mixed messages related to the no-build zones in coastal areas could create a false sense of security and prevent the rehabilitation of storm-displaced people, officials and experts say.

The declaration was based on protocols outlined in Article 51 of the Philippine Water Code, a presidential decree. However, officials say, the move could undermine safety and recovery efforts.

“There is a misinterpretation of the Water Code,” said Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of the Leyte coastal city of Tacloban. “It gives the wrong message that when you are beyond 40 meters of the coastline, you are already safe. Elevation is a better measure of protection. You cannot build a structure that will withstand a storm surge or tsunami – the only way is up.”

Tacloban was swallowed by storm surges reported to be as high as six meters. Most of the 6,400-plus deaths caused by Haiyan occurred in Tacloban. Bodies were still being found as late as January.

A May 2014 interagency report shows that around 26,000 people remain in tents and evacuation centers, or with host families. Some 200,000 people face prolonged displacement, the report said, if the areas where they lived previously are declared by the government as being in “no dwelling zones.” The designation means structures can be built but not inhabited, which is often in practice interpreted to mean “no-build zone.”

Government officials and humanitarian workers are concerned that compliance with the 40-meter no-build zone can have the dual effect of convincing people at lower elevations that they are safe when they are not, and limiting relocation options by designating some safe areas as off-limits. Even with compliance, however, the job of enforcing the law remains problematical, given the Filipino tendency to ignore laws. It is likely that people will move back into the areas

“Non-strict” application

“We recommend that we do not strictly apply the no-build zone [guideline]. It is impractical to implement,” said Karen Jimeno, director of communications for the Office of the Presidential Advisor for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR), a committee created by President Benigno S. Aquino III to oversee all rehabilitation efforts after Haiyan.

Instead of the blanket 40-meter no-build zone, OPARR is recommending that areas be classified as “safe zones,” “unsafe zones,” or “controlled zones”.

Building in “controlled zones,” for example, will be permitted as long as there are mitigating measures in that area such as mangroves, catch basins or sea walls to protect against disasters. OPARR is currently surveying affected areas using “multi-hazard maps” – which scope out the topography of an area and determine its degree of vulnerability to certain disasters. Then the committee will classify areas as safe, unsafe or controlled zones.

Previously the DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau produced geo-hazard maps that classified areas according to their degree of vulnerability to floods and landslides.

According to Jimeno, the multi-hazard maps will complement the geo-hazard maps to include an area’s vulnerability to storm surge and earthquake, in addition to floods and landslides.

“We hope that the local government units, which bear principal responsibility for disaster response, can use the maps as an evaluation tool to plan their resettlement and rebuilding efforts,” saidSarah Jane Samalburo, chief science research specialist at the Department of Science and Technology, which is developing the maps in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Taking too long

While many welcome the development of multi-hazard maps as part of “build back better” efforts, some are concerned that they are taking too long to complete, leaving the displaced in limbo.

According to Samalburo, of the 171 municipalities affected by Yolanda, 114 have been mapped out for landslides, 60 for floods and 20 for storm surges. A multi-hazard map to determine earthquake vulnerability will be developed at a later date.

“Our shelter interventions depend on these multi-hazards maps and the decision of the local government on where to build. If you look at their situation now, it is as if [the displaced] have not yet received humanitarian aid,” said Conrad Navidad, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the International Organization for Migration.

The May inter-agency report acknowledged that the government had adjusted its blanket policy on no-build zones, but pointed out that only limited options for resettlement remained.

Typhoon Ramussan, known locally as Glenda, made landfall in the Philippines this week, killing at least 38 people. According to the migration organizaton, several hundred Haiyan-displaced families were evacuated temporarily from tents to other structures when flooding began.

IRIN is a service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations