Yolanda recovery: Building back better
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2014 - 12:00am

It is understandable that discussion regarding the recovery and reconstruction for the areas devastated by Typhoon Yolanda enkindles such strong emotions. Asian Development Bank (ADB) VP Stephen Groff explains: “There is always going to be tension between doing it fast and doing it right.” Ping Lacson was also right when he said that even if progress was being made, even one month of waiting for a typhoon victim is too long.

There is no question that there is still much to be done. There are still communities that need short term assistance. There are also longer term needs, for many people, such as housing, resettlement and sustainable livelihood.

International organizations, like ADB, have warned that it typically takes 4 to 5 years to recover from a catastrophe as severe as Typhoon Yolanda. In Japan, more than three years after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeastern part of that country, reconstruction is still ongoing.  In the United States, it was only eight years after Hurricane Katrina that the recovery and reconstruction was considered finished. However, even today there are still criticisms from certain sectors that the Obama administration has not done enough.

In Haiti, four years after it was devastated by a severe typhoon, over 200,000 people are still living in tents. Secretary Soliman’s target is that no typhoon victim will need to still live in a tent by the end of this year.

However, the Yolanda rehab is going even faster than the Aceh disaster in Indonesia. When P-Noy approved the rehabilitation plan 11 months after the disaster, some people were wondering why it took several months. The reconstruction plan for Hurricane Katrina in the United States took 8 to 11 months before final approval.

For those willing to fully understand a post-disaster program, there are three stages – relief, recovery, and reconstruction. An ADB report states: “Following a successful relief effort, solid progress has been made on repairing crucial infrastructure like national roads and bridges, supporting families with transitional housing and employment, and re-establishing local industry.” But the same report and the national government have agreed that the reconstruction program should result in communities that are better safeguarded against future disasters. This requires careful planning, better construction standards, relocation from danger areas, and school buildings that will withstand any future catastrophic disasters.

It is not enough to rebuild, but as P-Noy said it is necessary to Build Back Better. One story of hope and progress is the rebuilding of classrooms and restoring the opportunity for proper education for all the children in Leyte and Samar. The Department of Education, led by the indefatigable Br. Armin Luistro, has changed the design of the schools to ensure that they can withstand any future Yolandas. Their biggest challenge is relocating schools that are in danger zones. This means looking for new areas that can be purchased and convincing some communities to either relocate or allow children to send their children to school in a location farther away than their old school site.

DepEd’s target is to construct 2,313 classrooms in these devastated areas. Already around 1,200 classrooms have been built or are being built by the government. One good sign is that members of the private sector are also building and donating classrooms. One such story is the building program of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) which has a 700 megawatt integrated wet steam field and geothermal plant in Leyte.

The EDC agreed to be the project manager for an NGO — Sagip Kapamilya — to construct 74 classrooms in six towns in Leyte. The foundation had the funds because of contributions from donors. But they do not have any office or personnel in Leyte. EDC, because of its massive power plant in Leyte, had the personnel and the contacts with the local government. This was an ideal synergy.

The EDC school buildings were designed by the famous architect Willy Coscolluela who donated his services. It surpasses even DepEd standards. The cost per classroom is P1.1 million. The ceilings are higher so that fresh air can more easily circulate inside the classroom. The walls are 50% thicker than standard, and there are two comfort rooms for every three to four classrooms. Each classroom comes with 45 chairs, a teacher’s desk, blackboard, 4 electric fans, LED lights and even access for persons with disability. According to EDC, they intend to build more school buildings in the next years from funds sourced from their firm and sister companies in the Lopez Group. If other business conglomerates can follow this model or work with EDC, the classroom shortage will be gone by next year and replaced with even better structures rivalling the best in private schools.

Another success story, narrated by a World Bank officer, is that of Heidi Condisiangco, a housewife and mother of three in Cebu. The roof of her house was blown away when Yolanda hit their town. As she rebuilt her life, one saving grace was that she was one of the millions of beneficiary families of the DSWD program — Pantawid — and she was receiving monthly cash grants for sending her kids to school, undergoing regular health checks and attending lessons like preparing for typhoon disasters.

After the typhoon, the Pantawid program was modified to support families like Heidi’s so that payments could be made without conditions.

The story of Yolanda brings to mind lines from “Like the Molave” which speak of the resilience of the Filipino: It is a tree “firm, resilient, staunch, unafraid.” It bends with the wind but springs back to life better and more beautiful than before.

* * *

 Not too early to plan for the holidays!

A workshop for kids: Writing & crafting your book

Write and craft your own handmade Holiday book with author Neni Sta. Romana Cruz on Nov. 29, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. at the Canadian American School, Alphaland Makati.  

Call 0917-6240196/ email writethingsph@gmail.com

* * *

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with