Three months after Typhoon Haiyan struck, thousands of people in the islands of Visayas continue to reel from the devastation it wreaked. Debris from wrecked houses still litters the shores of many islands. Makeshift homes made of the same rubble have mushroomed amidst the chaos despite the numerous tents and bunks provided by both local and international aid. Many people in the largely fishing and farming communities still cannot earn a living because they have not been able to replace the boats, crops and equipment destroyed by the typhoon.
The challenge for the Philippines now is to build back better, as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has noted. And the greatest challenge in building back better is making the ideal a reality, says Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, Coordinator for Reconciliation with Creation for the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific and Executive Director for the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC).
“Sifting through the debris and reviewing the bits of structure that survived tell us a lot about how we cannot just simply re-build, but strategize so that one is not pushed to ground zero all the time,” he stressed.
When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, the Jesuit response was swift and international. Jesuit provinces across the world responded to an appeal from Fr General Adolfo Nicolás SJ for aid. Philippine Jesuit Provincial Fr Antonio Moreno SJ said that the support and solidarity of the provinces and regions were extremely overwhelming and heart-warming. In addition, the recently established Xavier Network, which consists of Jesuit mission offices in Western Europe, Australia and English Canada, has offered considerable financial support to help rebuild the lives of the survivors.
Locally, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), the social justice arm of the Jesuit Philippine Province, swung into action quickly to bring relief to victims. The emergency relief programme lasted until November 28, after which SLB shifted its focus to addressing the long-term needs of the communities. SLB is now finalizing rehabilitation plans largely focused on underserved areas such as Culion, Palawan and the Dinagat Islands.
An inter-religious congregation dialogue for the rehabilitation of Haiyan-affected communities was organised on January 25, gathering people with different fields of expertise together to strengthen SLB’s initial projects. .
On February 4, SLB Executive Director Fr Xavier Alpasa SJ signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Gawad Kalinga Foundation to establish their partnership for the housing rehabilitation project in Hernani, Eastern Samar. Present in the signing were GK Executive Director Mr Luis Oquiñena and GK Founder Mr. Antonio Meloto. This was witnessed by Philippine Consul General for New York Mario de Leon whose office initiated the Build a Shelter Project to mobilize the resources of both the Filipino American and non-Filipino American communities in assisting the survivors of Haiyan. Housing and relocation projects will provide sturdier shelters in safer areas that can withstand the numerous storms that pass the Philippines every year.
Project “Boat the Nations” has begun purchasing and rehabilitating boats crucial for fishing communities. In Culion, eco-tourism is being developed together with the establishment of a cooperative to help support their economy and augment livelihood. The new Isla Culion Consumer Cooperative will offer assistance of Php 4,000 (US$90) per person, including a membership scholarship of Php 2,000 (US$45), that will serve both as capital and as enrolment for further long-term assistance.
In addition, solar energy equipment is being supplied to affected areas with limited power supply. Solar panels have already been successfully installed in the areas of Roxas, Samar, Tacloban, and Culion.
For more news on the rehabilitation efforts led by Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan in the Visayas, visit slb.ph.