Simone Orendain – MANILA — One month ago, a powerful super typhoon slammed the central Philippines, knocking out power and communications, and kicking up piles of debris that cut people off from aid for days. Humanitarian officials say these days, there is progress in the devastated areas, but there is still a long road to recovery.
A few schools have reopened and the number of displaced people in evacuation centers is now less than 100,000, according to the United Nations. The storm displaced more than four million people and at its peak; the evacuation centers housed close to half a million people.
Chris Kaye is U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines. He visited Tacloban and other hard-hit towns this past week.
“They’re desperately keen to rebuild their homes – for themselves to rebuild their homes, to get back to work, whether as farmers or as fishermen and for their children to resume schooling,” said Kaye.
The typhoon kicked up a massive storm surge that slammed Tacloban and nearby towns, and it blew away entire communities where farming and fishing are the main sources of income. Its punishing winds destroyed about 1.1 million houses.
Kaye said government was able to secure funding to buy seeds for farmers in time for the rice planting season, which started in a few weeks. But he said there were not enough quality building materials for residents to build sturdier homes than what they used to have.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is putting up temporary tent schools for about 500,000 students. The agency has also started the arduous task of identifying children who were left on their own by the storm.
Sarah Norton-Staal is UNICEF child protection chief. She said the family reunification program was able to pinpoint 36 children this past week.
“You speak to community members and they say, ‘Yes, I’ve heard about one child.’ Then you have to go to another person, ‘Do you know where that child is?’ And so it’s walking in the communities, walking in the barangays until you find that rumored child and speak to that child. There you have it. It’s a slow process,” she said.
The Civil Defense office said since Typhoon Haiyan struck, the government has recorded more than 21,000 people who left the devastation for major metropolitan areas such as Manila. People continue to leave Tacloban. But local officials are putting out a call to business owners to return and some are trickling back.
The government is undertaking a $3 billion rehabilitation plan that some humanitarian agencies said could take three to five years to complete.
Close to 7,500 people are either dead or missing after the storm. And the lingering smell of decay in the air in Tacloban and other coastal towns indicates there are still unrecovered bodies.