Typhoon Haiyan: One year later, Philippines 'building back better'

Haiyan became the strongest storm on record to make landfall when it hit the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year, killing 6,300 people and displacing 4.1 million more.

Erik de Castro/Reuters
Typhoon Haiyan survivors rest at a temporary shelter in Tanauan, Leyte, in central Philippines on Friday.

Aid groups and humanitarians across the world have praised the ongoing recovery from typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which many say has largely delivered on its promise to "build back better" in the year since the massive storm hit.

Billions of dollars from the Philippines government and international donors have helped people in the hardest hit regions restore their lives – from rebuilding roads and replanting crops to providing much-needed medical care and sanitation. But much work remains, as many survivors are still without permanent housing and suitable livelihoods.  

"We are humbled by the extraordinary resilience of the Filipino people," Luiza Carvalho, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines, said Thursday. "Despite the unprecedented destruction and tragedy that struck," Ms. Carvalho said, Filipinos pushed through "to this point where recovery is well underway." 

Haiyan became the strongest storm on record to make landfall when it hit the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, killing 6,300 people and displacing 4.1 million more. Overall, it affected 14 million people across nine regions – 14 percent of the country's total population.

The Philippines government estimates the typhoon caused $12.7 billion in damages. Its record winds and near tsunami-like storm surge damaged or destroyed 1 million homes and wiped out 33 million coconut trees, a source of income for many Filipinos.

Richard Bolt, the Asian Development Bank's country director in the Philippines, applauded the speed with which the Philippines responded in the aftermath of Haiyan. In a video interview on the ADB's website, Mr. Bolt said the government's initial damage assessment laid the groundwork for the recovery and reconstruction efforts. It completed the report within two months of the storm.

"This is the fastest ever that we've had a large scale rapid damage, loss, and needs assessment undertaken and presented to the government and to the donor community," he said.

Building back: Housing, public health

In late October, President Benigno Aquino approved a $3.7 billion reconstruction plan to help ensure sustainable, long-term recovery. The reconstruction phase – which includes 25,000 projects in 171 affected municipalities and cities – is set to begin in earnest next year.

Among the plan's most ambitious goals is its directive to move about 1 million people away from vulnerable coastal areas. The plan calls for all projects to be completed by 2016, President Aquino's last year in office.

Many reconstruction projects are already underway. On Friday, the Department of Transportation and Communications announced that rehabilitation work had been completed at three airports and 14 seaports in the affected regions. 

Government officials expect Tacloban Airport, one of the most damaged transportation hubs, to be able to accommodate large aircraft by January.
Secretary of Transportation Jun Abaya said in a statement that the rehabilitation projects were designed to "speed up recovery in the affected regions" and "support the victims in their livelihood requirements and in the delivery of their basic needs."

But many regions in the central Philippines have a long ways to go before life returns to normal for the people who live there. Haiyan hit some of the country's poorest areas, where local households struggled to get by even before the typhoon swept through.

The Philippines government has been especially slow on housing, having built less than 1 percent of planned permanent homes, according to a report released Thursday by Oxfam International.

The UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in October that 25,000 people still lived in transitional housing such as tents and evacuation centers. It estimated that an additional 475,000 people were living in unsafe and inadequate makeshift shelters. Many of them remain highly vulnerable because of their limited ability to recover without further assistance, OCHA said.

"While people have been asked not to rebuild in the coastal areas, they really have little choice," says Vincenzo Bollettino, executive director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. "The government hasn't moved fast enough to accommodate the number of internally displaced people who are there."

In addition to housing, public health remains a top concern, Mr. Bollettino says. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 Haiyan victims have suffered from mental health problems and that a tenth of them need continued treatment.

The international community has recognized the need for ongoing assistance. Many aid organizations have recently reaffirmed their commitment to helping the Philippines fully bounce back.

"We recognize that 'building back better' will be a complex and long process, particularity the rehabilitation of human settlements and the restoration of livelihoods," Carvalho said, adding that the Philippines government has "clearly outlined the work that lies ahead."

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