Help poured in from all over the world when supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) devastated much of the Visayas region of the Philippines, especially the island of Leyte, in 2013. With winds of 320kph, it was the strongest typhoon ever recorded to make a landfall, leaving 6,300 people dead and 1,061 persons missing. But now these areas are largely forgotten (though the issue of slow government response was used in the May elections against one presidential candidate, who eventually lost.)
Together with participants from the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, India and the Netherlands, I visited one resettlement site for Haiyan affected-families the other day. We are part of the refresher course “The role of women’s organizations in climate change induced resettlement” organized by the IHS together with the University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning (UP-SURP). The families used to live along the coast but their houses were swept away by strong winds and storm surges.
Before going to the resettlement site, we visited the municipal mayor for a courtesy call. He was happy to report that there was zero resistance to relocation and that the livelihood of the families were preserved. The Dutch individuals in our group were also happy to hear that international aid did go to the Haiyan-affected families. The Netherlands raised a significant amount of money for the Philippines after the disaster.
At the site, however, the stories of the families painted a different picture. They are in dire need of livelihood and basic services. One mother said that she would buy fish from the main supplier and sell it in the community. She would only earn about 150 pesos (approximately 3 euros), from which she would get 90 pesos (2 euros) for the allowance of her three schoolchildren leaving only about 1 euro for food. Another young lady was on the verge of tears as she related how far the resettlement site was from school, so she could not walk to it anymore like she used to. Unfortunately, there were also accounts of embezzlement by community leaders, so the community association is now trying to reorganize.
One young mother said that they also needed a day care center for the children. Indeed, during our visit there were several children playing near the deep well where the families get water. Their innocent eyes got me thinking about what future lie ahead of them. Studies have consistently shown that a significant percentage of children born to poor parents go on to become poor themselves. This is what sociologists and economists call inter-generational poverty. These children can almost never hope to get out of the poverty that they are born into. The odds are against them from the moment of their birth because of poor health and brain development. It is a sad statistical fact. And this will have an implication on the ability of a developing country to become truly developed.
Development depends highly on the quality of a country’s human resources. People who are against social protection and affirmative action because it is allegedly a waste of taxpayers’ money do not understand that. We actually help the country and ourselves, when we help poor children and their families. Decent housing with access to education, health services and livelihood can be a way of somehow levelling the playing field so that these children will have a better fighting chance at a better life than what their parents had. From this lens, proper resettlement can potentially break the vicious cycle of poverty that generations of families are trapped in.
These inadequacies in the resettlement site, are the tell tale signs of a lack of participatory social preparation before resettlement. On the positive side however, families feel safer there now than in their original locations on the coast. And they felt “lucky” that, unlike other Haiyan-affected families, they did not have to live in temporary shelters in bunkhouses where conditions were very unhealthy. But a lot remains to be done as the housing in the area would not qualify as “adequate housing” if we go by the standards set by international instruments. Housing, for example, must not only be affordable and habitable, but it must also mean access to livelihood and basic services. Hopefully, resettlement – particularly climate change-induced resettlement – would be given particular attention in the Habitat III agenda in Quito.
As for the municipal mayor we talked to, he needs to visit the families to see the sad conditions on the ground and address them with other stakeholders, especially with the community.
About the author:
Junefe Gilig Payot is a lawyer and Corporate Executive Officer at the Social Housing Finance Corporation in Manila, and an advocate for inclusive urban development. He is an alumnus of the IHS short course on Land Management for Informal Resettlement Regularisation (LMISR) in 2008.