What Next?

The biggest challenge that development workers are confronting seven months after Haiyan struck is finding durable solutions – durable in a sense that people reside in permanent shelters, that they have access to sustainable livelihood and education, that their rights to survival is not hampered by bureaucracy. Up to this day, humanitarian organizations are still asking the same question – why are the internally displaced persons still living in tent cities and/or bunkhouses?

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Tent City in Tacloban

As we walked around San Jose’s worst hit barangays, specifically 88, 89, and 90, we learned to paint a picture of what life is like in the Tent City of Tacloban. We met people who generously greeted us with warm “Maupay na kulop!” and smiled their toothy grins despite current circumstances. They were not okay but their sunny dispositions make you feel ashamed for whining about your own petty predicaments. We talked to fathers who were gratefully adorning the fishing boats that were donated to them, to mothers who worried about their children’s well-being now that the rainy season is just around the corner, even to children who have made playgrounds out of the debris left behind by the storm surge. “What is a storm surge?” they rued. They did not know what it meant and they obviously did not know the caliber of the force that hit them. The radio and tv stations did not clearly explain what it was and they all thought that it was just another typhoon; something that everyone who lived near the coast was used to. One fisherman even went on to say that if they were only told that it will be like a ‘tsunami’ (apparently, this word is a more common one) then they would have evacuated and more people would have survived.  The same fisherman shook his head and continued painting his fishing boat yellow for a sunnier future he hoped. After all, now was not the time to dwell on what did not happen but on what should be done.

When we inquired about their living conditions, we observed that the fishermen lived in the tents with their families and when we asked them if they were provided with bunkhouses, they answered that some of them were, but opted not to take advantage of them because there was no means of earning a living near the area where the bunkhouses were located; not to mention access to schools was close to impossible. Most of those who refused the offers were fishermen and they needed to be near the coast. Some of the residents in the Tent City were still waiting for offers. One mother narrated that she has been waiting for an open slot and for seven months, she has been assuring her children that they will soon be transferred. Her anxiety builds up even more now that it has started raining again and she desperately patches the leak on their tents. These tents were not designed to survive more than six months of usage. They were supposed to be temporary means while the government was buying time, an immediate balm to a wound that was not getting better as months passed. Many of the residents make do with what they have but all of them are anxiously waiting for that permanent relocation that they were promised with; because even these bunkhouses were set on temporary bounds.

Haiyan survivors

Life in the Tent City after Haiyan.

The Tent City is categorized as a danger zone. Everyone knows this but they still reside in the area because they do not a have a choice. This “Danger Zone” and now being declared as a “No Build Zone” was always the place they called home, long before Haiyan happened and it is not an easy task to uproot yourself from the kind of life you always knew. People know the extent of the danger being plastered all over town but when the options offered to you cannot sustain you and your family’s needs, who do you point the finger to then when the next disaster comes?

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Walking around Barangay 89 and 90 in San Jose, Tacloban

This is another concern for humanitarian organizations and our government. I guess the real question is, “What next?”

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