Tacloban comes back to life

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Returning to typhoon-devastated Tacloban on Tuesday, Nov. 19, a week since she first saw the city stripped of almost everything, the United Nations humanitarian chief found communities eager to get back on their feet and resume normal living.


While noting remaining gaps in aid delivery, UN Undersecretary General Valerie Amos was amazed at the spirit of the Filipinos, who are facing a mammoth reconstruction job that could take many years.

“I continue to be struck by the resilience and spirit of the Filipino people. Everywhere I visited, I saw families determined to rebuild their lives under the most difficult conditions,” Amos told reporters in Makati City on Tuesday night.

“So people are, of course, to an extent traumatized by what happened. They have lost loved ones, but at the same time they’re trying to look to the future,” said Amos, who first visited Tacloban City on Nov. 13.

The Vatican, too, has observed the struggle of the Visayans to rise from the tragedy that has befallen them.

“We want to express our admiration for the spirit of the Filipino people. We have been seeing the terrible devastation but we have also been witnessing the extraordinary care, consideration and generosity of your own people,” said Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications told reporters on Wednesday.

Tighe is in Manila to attend the two-day Catholic Social Media Summit at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran on Saturday and Sunday.

“We pray for you at this time, we offer whatever support and assistance we can but above all we want to assure you of our prayers that your spirit, that your ability as a people would be fully manifested at this time,” he said.


Second visit

Amos spoke to reporters after returning from Tacloban and other devastated parts of Samar, including the town of Guiuan, where Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) made the first of five landfalls on Nov. 8.

Around the disaster areas, Amos said she saw images of daily life amid scenes of devastation: women either cooking in makeshift kitchens or doing the laundry and men clearing debris and scavenging for materials to rebuild their destroyed homes.

Amos shared a conversation with a carpenter looking to replace his lost tools to rebuild his house and restart his business.

“What they are seeking to do is to rebuild their lives and get back to a position where their children are educated, where they’re able to work, where they have somewhere to live, where they’re healthy to being looked after and they can essentially support the rebuilding of their communities,” Amos said.


Different face

“That’s the spirit that I got from the people I spoke with today,” she added, referring to a “very different” face of the disaster zone on her second visit.

Amos said she had seen an improvement in the flow of assistance to typhoon survivors, but called for greater attention to inland villages that had yet to receive assistance.

“While much of the international focus has been on Tacloban, people need help in many other areas. There are areas farther inland in the mountains on the many of the smaller islands that we have yet to reach,” she said.

Assessing the flow of aid, Amos said the relief operations had been “scaled up significantly.”

The improvement in pace came as a relief from delays last week caused by logistical hurdles and the sheer magnitude of the disaster, which drove Amos to say that the global effort had  “let people down.”

“Every day aid efforts gather pace with the systems getting through to more people. Significant food and medical assistance has been provided and water services, as well as limited telecommunications services, restored,” Amos said.

The United Nations has estimated that some 1.1 million have received food aid since the disaster struck, but less than half of the estimated 2.5 million affected residents are in need of food aid.

Amos said water services have been restored in Capiz, northern Cebu and Roxas City. Medical teams—43 international groups and 44 local—provide medical services to the survivors, she said.

Julie Hall, country representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), said most patients treated in the first week had trauma injuries, including fractures and cuts from typhoon debris.

Into the second week of operations on the ground, medical teams have seen an increasing number of patients with preexisting diabetes and heart problems who have been lacking medication and care.


Children vulnerable

UN officials also expressed a special concern for displaced children, citing their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking given the loss of their parents’ livelihood.

The United Nations estimates that there are nearly 5 million children in disaster areas in need of emergency shelter, protection and psychosocial support.

“Children face the risk of separation from their parents, with their parents on the move looking for food for survival. They may leave children behind, and this is where children are at risk. They are at risk of trafficking. This area is already at high risk of trafficking,” said Sarah Norton Stahl, child protection chief at the United Nations Children’s Fund Philippines.

Stahl said previous disasters had led to a 10-percent rise in child trafficking, as displaced families grappled with the lack of resources to survive.

She also cited the need to establish safe spaces for children, noting that 90 percent of daycare centers in ravaged towns and cities were destroyed.

Last week, the United Nations appealed for $301 million for a six-month action plan for typhoon-hit areas in the Eastern Visayas, covering food, shelter, water, hygiene and sanitation, reconstruction and livelihood, among other forms of assistance.

As of last night, Amos said $87 million had been filled by donations from around the world.

Agreeing with Amos’ observation, Tecson John Lim, city administrator of Tacloban, on Wednesday said the city, which used to have 220,000 people, was struggling to rise 12 days after the monster storm.

“Slowly, we’re getting back on our feet, and we are encouraging business establishments to reopen,” Lim said.


Banks reopen

The local branches of government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines are open again, with privately owned Metro Bank and Allied Bank announcing they will be back soon, he said.

Some gasoline stations, grocery stores and stalls at the public market have also reopened, he said.

But not ready to reopen are shopping malls Gaisano Central City and Gaisano Capital, both located downtown, which were looted in the first few days of the government’s absence after the storm.

Lim said he had talked to the owner of the two shopping malls, the Gaisano Capital Group, and was told by its officials that they were not ready to resume business.

It is believed that most businessmen in the city fear a repeat of the looting at the height of the chaos that followed Yolanda.

With local police themselves victims of the typhoon, the national government sent special military forces and crack police teams into Tacloban to restore law and order.

With more than 2,000 police officers and 1,300 soldiers patrolling the streets of Tacloban and guarding the city’s business district, Lim assured businessmen that they and their businesses would be safe should they decide to resume operations.

Lim said city officials were grateful to the national government and to the international aid agencies for coming to Tacloban’s aid.

“We are glad that the national government, particularly President Aquino and his entire Cabinet, especially Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, has been with us even before Yolanda hit Tacloban and since day one. They are being fair to us,” Lim said.


Baseless, useless

Roxas said he did not know where the reports of his differences with Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez came from.

“This is baseless and useless,” Roxas said.

Romualdez, a nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos, who now holds the seat of the first district of Ilocos Norte in the House of Representatives, parried questions about his quarrel with Roxas, saying he was concentrating on bringing life in the city back to normal.

Speaking at a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Tacloban, Roxas said the situation in the city had “stabilized.”

As of Wednesday, the death toll from Yolanda stood at 4,000. In Tacloban alone, 1,549 people died and 469 were reported missing.

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