Philippines: Earthquake-affected communities fear being forgotten

23 January, 2014
Oct 2013, Bohol, the Philippines: Workers in the town of Loon clear the debris from a church that collapsed in the the 15 October earthquake that struck the southern Philippines island of Bohol. Credit: OCHA/J. Addawe
Oct 2013, Bohol, the Philippines: Workers in the town of Loon clear the debris from a church that collapsed in the the 15 October earthquake that struck the southern Philippines island of Bohol. Credit: OCHA/J. Addawe

Fareeda Corra once owned a modest shop and a house in the small fishing village of Sitto San Juan, in the Bohol region of the southern Philippines. “The earnings from my shop and my husband’s income from his fishing business allowed us to lead a happy and satisfied life,” she said.

But on 15 October, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit Bohol, ruining Fareeda’s home and business.

She was grateful for the food, water and shelter supplies that the Government and humanitarian organizations quickly provided following the quake. This assistance helped her family survive the difficult first days and enabled them to build a makeshift shelter alongside their ruined home.

Fareeda was hopeful that life would soon return to normal. But in the early hours of 8 November, Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the central Philippines.

Power and attention cut

Fareeda explained that Super Typhoon Haiyan affected her community in two ways. It cut off power on her island, crippling her husband’s fishing business that relies on electricity to keep his catch cold before taking it to market. It also diverted attention.

“We are receiving food assistance from the Government and other organizations,” she said. “But how long will we have to survive on assistance from others? We want to re-establish our lives, but we are getting less and less attention from authorities.”

In Antequera Municipality, Rosenda Barrera’s concrete house was also badly damaged by the earthquake. The Government has labelled it un-inhabitable. Therefore, Rosenda and her family split their time between her sister’s house in Tagbilaran City and a tent next to their condemned home. “We manage to survive, but I don’t know if we will ever manage to rebuild our family home,” says Rosenda.

Thousands of homes damaged or destroyed

Rosenda and Fareeda’s concerns are shared by many others. The barangay (neighbourhood) Captain, Arnolfo Gonzales, voiced his fear that earthquake-affected communities would be forgotten following the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

“We received considerable assistance during the initial period,” he said. “However, after Yolanda [as Haiyan is known locally], the Government is focusing on those other areas, with less assistance reaching us. How are people going to rebuild their houses?”

Thousands of earthquake-affected families are struggling to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. An estimated 70,000 houses are either damaged or partially damaged.

One of last year’s most underfunded emergencies

Jock Paul is the Head of OCHA’s sub-office in Bohol. He says that in the initial days and weeks of the response, communities’ emergency needs were largely met.

“Aid agencies and the Government were able to provide people with shelter, food and water, and they were supported by international donors,” he said. “The local government is doing a great and very proactive job, and cooperation with international actors here in Bohol is outstanding.

“However, after Yolanda, the best resources of the national Government and international organizations were diverted there. So there is much less capacity, and the additional funds we need for recovery work have yet to arrive.”

At the end of 2013, the aid community in Bohol had received only 22 per cent of the US$46 million it had requested, making the earthquake response one of the year’s worst-funded operations. By late January 2014, that figure had only climbed to just over 30 per cent. Because of this, some organizations have abandoned their Bohol operations, diverting their attention towards the response to Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Reconstruction efforts could stall

The fading attention is severely impeding the aid community’s capacity to help local authorities and affected communities transition into recovery. Reconstructing homes and restoring the water supply and livelihoods remain the most pressing needs.

“We would like to fast-track the reconstruction of houses to help people to return to their normal lives as quickly as possible,” says Edgardo Chatto, Governor of Bohol Province.

But there is positive news. In mid-January, local authorities reported an increase in tourist numbers over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, which is an important sign of recovery for one of the Philippines’ major tourist islands.

“The survivors of the earthquake were fortunate to escape the worst effects of the typhoon in November,” said OCHA’s Jock Paul. “However, the continuing needs of the people of Bohol must not be forgotten.”

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