THE BLOG

Super-Typhoon Haiyan - Two Years On

08/11/2015 19:07 GMT | Updated 06/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Today (Sunday 8 November) marks two years since super-typhoon Haiyan - one of the strongest storms ever recorded - swept through the Visayas region of the Philippines, wiping out entire communities and destroying almost everything in its path. Some 14million people were affected, including four million forced to flee their homes. A total of 6,200 people lost their lives.

Just days after the storm hit, I was there on the ground visiting affected people with our emergency response teams. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was to witness - the warm, festering smells; the brown, damp rubble strewn as far as the eye could see; the body bags lying in the streets and the desperation in peoples' faces.

Returning a year later, I was delighted to see the once drab landscape again lush with green plants and newly planted coconut trees sprouting into life. Once brown, desolate beaches were again gleaming white.

Yet, although on the surface it looked like people were getting back to how life was before Haiyan, delving deeper, it was clear that this was far from the truth. Some 95% of all the coconut trees were destroyed, leaving many without a means to earn a living. Newly planted replacements will not bear fruit for up to ten years.

Indeed, even now, affected communities continue to struggle to return to normal, with many families still living in high-risk zones by the sea, thousands left without a means to earn a living and many remaining psychologically scarred.

In the days following the disaster, numerous aid agencies stepped in to provide emergency relief, including Christian Aid whose local partners reached more than 180,000 people with supplies of food, clean water, blankets and shelter materials. Today, our partners continue to support affected communities, supplying much-needed shelter, means to earn a living and counselling.

The national and local governments should also have played a major role in meeting the needs of affected communities but recent research shows that their response was not - and still is not - up to scratch, with funding often going elsewhere and spending often slow and difficult to access.

In February, Christian Aid partner organisation Social Watch Philippines (SWP) began researching the lack of transparency around Haiyan-specific funds in 14 municipalities and cities on the islands of Samar, Leyte, and Northern Palawan and in the city of Iloilo on Panay island.

The national government committed 167.86 billion pesos (£2.3billion) to the Haiyan Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme, raising survivors' hopes, but this has not been realised as a result of competing needs often taking budget elsewhere. Additionally, these budgets were not solely from government accounts, and sources of funds were often unclear.

Also, SWP found reconstruction plans for providing shelter for families, was poorly planned and implemented, with the delayed provision of emergency housing high on communities' lists of complaints. Where construction has started, plans are hindered by continuing issues of land acquisition, pricing and lack of proper documentation.

SWP called on the authorities to take action, urging them to create an agency to implement, oversee and monitor government responses to disasters, request President Aquino to commit the remaining Haiyan budget to those still in desperate need and compel the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to specify the allocation for every programme, activity and project.

They were not the only ones perplexed at the slow response to Haiyan. A number of politicians were also concerned, including Congressman Martin Romualdez, who filed a bill to create an agency to monitor the spending of the Haiyan budget. Upon meeting, SWP representatives and Congressman Romaualdez discovered they'd come to the same conclusions independently, and agreed to support each other's position and campaign together, while mobilising allies in Congress.

Yet, despite this effort, it would seem their requests have fallen on deaf ears with the amounts restricted for each project within the 2016 Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan (CRRP) budget - including the continuation of the Haiyan response - remaining secret. This is despite climate change adaptation and mitigation cited as one of the five key areas of the Aquino administration.

Christian Aid and its local partner organisations continue to support communities still feeling the effects of Haiyan, and are currently supporting more than 80,000 people across Leyte, Samar, Iloilo and Palawan.

And SWP will not stop the fight for transparency and proper implementation of funds.

SWP representative, Prof. Leonor Magtolis Briones said: "Data and information should be accessible to taxpayers so money targeted for Haiyan reconstruction, and that for other equally important disasters that struck the country, are identifiable."