Typhoon-hit Tacloban recovers but challenges still ahead

(The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2014 - 9:00pm

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - Exactly four months after super-typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year, Tacloban City in the island province of Leyte, which was the worst-hit, is slowly inching toward normalcy.

Packing winds of more than 300 kilometers an hour, Haiyan was the world's strongest typhoon to make a landfall in historic record.

In Tacloban City, it was accompanied by a tsunami-like storm surge that flattened vast swathe of the city of some 250,000 people, killing and displacing thousands of residents.

Today, traffic is now back to normal in the streets of Tacloban; most of the shops, banks and gas stations are open while in the markets, vendors are now selling vegetables, fish, poultry and other agricultural products.

But some parts of the city are still in a mess. Tacloban's most pressing need is temporary or permanent shelter for 50,000 people whose homes were destroyed or are unsafe. About 1,000 still live in a stadium while others are in schools or tents.

The Philippine government has set up hundreds of bunkhouses or temporary shelters but they are not enough. Thousands are still waiting to be given shelter.

Four months after the disaster, some bodies of the victims are still recovered from the debris by the city authorities.

The Philippine government said the death toll topped 6,200 with 1,785 others missing in the disaster.

Sixteen million Filipinos were affected by the super-typhoon in 44 provinces mostly in central Philippines.

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez complained that aid from the national government was slow in coming to the city.

The government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, however, denied that there was delay in reconstructing the disaster-hit areas including Tacloban City.

A few weeks after the disaster, Aquino announced the appointment of former Senator Panfilo Lacson as "reconstruction czar" who is tasked to oversee the government's massive rehabilitation and reconstruction program.

Under the government plan, the Philippines will need a total of $8.17 billion for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the devastated areas. About $0.78 billion will be spent for critical immediate actions, $2.05 billion for short-term interventions throughout 2014, and the rest, about $5.34 billion, for needs from 2015 to 2017.

According to the country's economic planning agency, public spending for reconstruction in 2013 through 2014 stood at P125.1 billion ($2.85 billion). Total damage was initially estimated at P571.1 billion ($12.9 billion).

The World Bank has offered the Philippines almost $1 billion in aid, while the Manila-headquartered Asian Development Bank has pledged about $900 million loans and grants.

Among the countries that have pledged to finance the massive reconstruction efforts were the US, Britain, Australia, Japan and the European Union. The United Nations has also called for relief for the disaster-hit areas in the Philippines.

Soon after the Typhoon Haiyan struck, China sent its navy hospital ship, Peace Ark, to the Leyte Bay where hundreds of victims and survivors were treated. The Chinese Red Cross also set up some 160 temporary shelters in Tacloban City. Besides, The Chinese government emergency medical team put up a field hospital in Abuyog, Leyte, treating more than 2,000 local patients.

Analysts said that the massive public spending and the influx of donations from abroad could actually boost the country's economy.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan has said that despite last year's disaster the Philippine economy is still expected to accelerate from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent this year.

Lacson has called on the private sector to lead in the rehabilitation efforts, saying that with the private sector, there will be less red tape.  

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