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TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Six months after super typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas regions on Nov. 8, 2013, normal life has yet to return to many parts of this city and nearby towns of Leyte Province.

In downtown Tacloban, meanwhile, business is beginning to perk up with people already crowding the popular restaurants. The once lucrative nightlife business, though, has yet to show signs of recovery. Many of the looted establishments such as malls and drugstores are still closed.      

Thousands of the survivors whose houses were totally destroyed by the typhoon’s 350-kilometer-per-hour wind and the accompanying storm surge are still living in cramped tents and bunkhouses. Many of them are still jobless and dependent on donations – in cash or in kind – for their basic needs.  

The Filipino Star News (FSN) visited this city and Palo, Tanuan and Tolosa, all towns of Leyte Province, on May 5-10, 2014 to look into how the survivors are faring in their effort to recover from the widespread destruction and death of their loved ones.

Going around Tacloban, the FSN team, composed of businessman Boy Mac, photographer-reporter Jack Gadaingan and this writer, noted that many of the destroyed houses have yet to be repaired. Thick plastic sheets or cloth serve as roof to protect the occupants from the elements.

Most of the survivors living in tents and bunkhouses built by the government and private and international groups had no means of livelihood. As a result, they were idle every day. Their food was regularly supplied by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other charitable groups.   

 The survivors told FSN that their only source of income was the occasional work-for-cash assistance provided by DSWD and non-governmental organizations. This program, however, was off and on, depending on the availability of funds.

To provide the survivors with sustainable livelihood, the DSWD is set to implement a skills-training program. The men will be taught skills on carpentry, masonry, welding, etc. They complained, however, that government’s livelihood assistance is slow in coming.         

Visiting the towns of Palo and Tanauan, which were among the places hardest-hit by the howler, the FSN team noted that the repair of the wrecked houses alongside the national highway has yet to begin. Many of the residents are still living in improvised quarters.

Piles of rubbles, broken wood, twisted steel and ripped GI sheets were seen here and there, making these places look like war-torn areas.

Many of the survivors in these places are also living in bunkhouses and tents and have no regular means of livelihood.

It will take months or even years to resettle the survivors and their families to permanent areas. As of the third week of this month (May), the government had yet to find and/or acquire lands to be used as sites for resettlement. It was learned that the Tacloban City government has allotted P23 million for the purchase of lands where the survivors will be resettled.  

The FSN team also visited Basey, Samar, which is located across the San Juanico Strait. The town was also hard-hit by the typhoon and the storm surge. We observed that the situation of the survivors in the town is no different from those in Tacloban and Leyte. They are still dependent on donations of relief goods for their food.

Many of the survivors interviewed by FSN said their most urgent need is livelihood. They requested kind hearts to donate to them “pedicabs” which they could use to transport people. They also need funds which they could use as capital for small-scale businesses.

The survivors whose destroyed houses have yet to be repaired asked for donations of building materials such as GI sheets, lumber, cement and nails.

The repair of destroyed public facilities such as government buildings, school buildings and hospitals has barely started. Lack of funds is the reason cited for the inability to repair immediately the facilities. (Tony Antonio)