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Four things you didn’t know about post-Yolanda Tacloban

Tacloban City—Yolanda, Yolanda, Yolanda.

In Tacloban, it’s still what people talk about. Yolanda remains a household word, an explanation, a prompt, and a meme—if you will—outside the Internet, offline, IRL. After all, the world’s strongest typhoon on record has changed the Eastern Visayas capitol in ways both profound and mundane.

Below is a list of things you may want to know about the city seven months after Yolanda decimated it.

1. Tacloban’s financial recovery was helped by a publicity-shy foreign organization.

The Buddhist Tzu Chi foundation was among the first to provide crucial financial aid to Tacloban residents during the aftermath of Yolanda. The group paid P500 to everyone who helped clear the streets and/or clean their own backyards, a move that spurred the city’s economy. The cash afforded everyone mobility and choices, especially at a time when relief goods were rare, government was unseen, and uncertainty pervaded Tacloban.

However, since the amount is nearly double the city’s minimum daily wage of P263, workers refused jobs that paid less, creating an artificial—and short-lived—labor shortage. The foundation also provided financial handouts to small businesses and neighborhood store owners, enabling beneficiaries to recover faster than expected that, in turn, helped others gain employment.

Despite all its provisions for assistance, the foundation has remained low-key, shunning publicity and avoiding contact with reporters. As a result, a town near Tacloban was reportedly unable to receive assistance because its leader wanted photographs taken together with the Tzu Chi donations.

2. Yolanda survivors are still living in tents.

Seven months after typhoon Yolanda, 800 families are still living in tents, a condition that has supposedly forced some survivors to consider taking their own lives. A mother living in one such “tent city” has reportedly fed her two children poison before she ingested the substance herself, a decision she made after discovering that her husband gave money to his mother instead of his family.

Whether urban legend or undocumented narrative, this—and many more—such horror stories should spur government—local, provincial, and national—to move faster to provide housing to those who need it most at the soonest possible time. But that’s not as easy as it sounds as far as the Tacloban City government is concerned. Besides ensuring the availability of funds, the city is also planning, acquiring, and developing properties for permanent relocation.

Some landowners have refused the city’s offers to buy their properties, Ted Jopson, Tacloban City’s consultant for housing concerns, said. “Instead of P1 per square meter, some of them are asking for P300,” Jopson added. Despite these delays, the city government plans to transfer at least 300 families to transitional shelters and/or permanent relocation sites by end-September this year, according to Jopson. Of course, that doesn’t include several thousand others who are still staying in bunkhouses—built by national government agencies—and those living in no-build zones.

3. Prices of vegetables have become cheaper in Tacloban.

Thanks to several emergency food programs implemented after typhoon Yolanda, vegetables such as pechay, okra, and eggplant have become cheaper, said Roy Ribo, a coordinator for Kampil (Kalipunan ng Maliliit na Magniniyog ng Pilipinas [National Federation of Small Coconut Farmers in the Philippines]).

A few days before Christmas last year, Ribo helped implement an emergency household food security program. Together with members of the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), they distributed vegetable seeds to coconut farmers and other beneficiaries. “We wanted to ensure that our beneficiaries had enough to eat, especially if they fail to receive relief goods regularly,” Ribo said. The program was so successful that vegetable prices in the city fell to P40 a kilo in March from P130 a kilo in December, Ribo said. Vegetable traders have reportedly complained to the Department of Agriculture (DA) about the situation, sources said. But that is no longer the government’s problem, Ribo said when asked about the matter.

4. Tacloban residents have begun to embrace solar energy.

Solar-powered lamps can now be seen almost everywhere in the city—shanties, bunkhouses, wet market stalls, and even some households. Besides being free, solar lamps are also dependable sources of light, useful during occasional power service interruptions.

In December, just a month after Yolanda made landfall, an enterprising businessman named Nasher Abangon set up shop along Real Street. Business has been brisk because residents have begun to buy solar panels and install them on their roofs, he said in a recent InterAksyon.com report. And speaking of solar panels, several will soon be installed at a solar-charging facility along Padre Jose Burgos Street in downtown Tacloban. Once completed, the facility will become the Philippines’—if not Southeast Asia’s—first eJeepney charging station that will run on solar and/or geothermal energy.

But that is a story best told for another piece.

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