ADAPTATION:

Recovery is still a dream for the central Philippines 5 months after record typhoon

As Samuel Magadua walked along the muddy seashore littered with clothes, shoes and other debris, he spoke of a sister still missing since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines five months ago, leaving more than 7,000 people dead and millions still without livelihood and homes.

Magadua, a fisherman since he was a boy, is a resident of a coastal village where hundreds survived by clinging to coconut trees or by swimming for nearly two hours in the black ocean water that engulfed parts of Tacloban city and surrounding islands. Thousands died because of powerful winds and a wall of water reaching 20 feet or higher.

"We clung to our rooftops during the storm," Magadua said. "The only things we had left were the clothes we were wearing."

Magadua recently received a bank loan to replace his fishing boat. Although they have been quick to restart their livelihood or a small business selling goods beside their makeshift tents, survivors like Magadua and his extended family are largely reliant on dwindling international aid relief for food and materials for shelter.

Many fishermen's boats were damaged or destroyed while agriculture was also devastated in the region. Meanwhile, rice seeds from the national government and aid organizations are slowly finding their way to farmers like Norberto Salicisik.

"We couldn't save our crops," Salicisik said from his rural village outside Tacloban.

The rice farmer sat beside three sacks of seeds and fertilizer recently donated by an organization that drove through the town. Each sack was stamped with the flag of Norway and read, "Planting the seeds of recovery."

While many in the city and rural areas wait for help in rehabilitating their livelihood or try to launch tiny businesses, the available employment for many former fishermen and farmers is in construction as residents and businesses continue to repair and rebuild structures on the same places where they were flattened by the storm.

Cities of white tents and bunkhouses

More than 1.1 million homes were either partially or totally destroyed. White tents distributed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees are now home for thousands in the region. In the eastern coastal communities of Leyte, tents are pitched atop what was left of homes made of cement.

The government recently imposed a 40-meter no-build zone between the ocean and land to prevent areas from becoming too densely populated. Despite the new requirements, many residents are rebuilding within the zones because safer options have yet to materialize.

Temporary shelter for the thousands who are displaced is the most immediate need, according to many international aid partners in Tacloban and the city's mayor, Alfred Romualdez.

"You can't keep evacuating thousands of families every time there's an approaching storm," Romualdez told ClimateWire from his office in City Hall. The government building sits atop a hill overlooking the bay and was largely unaffected by the storm.

The strength and scale of damage from Haiyan were compounded by the area's geography, particularly a funnel-like bay that opens to the ocean through a strait. Tacloban is situated between the two main provinces of Samar and Leyte, two islands connected by a bridge that withstood the storm and served as a main thoroughfare for the massive influx of emergency relief.

The road to long-term solutions against the threat of intensifying storms and the rising sea has also begun as urban designers identify higher ground for human habitation.

The Philippines Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is leading the relocation of residents and the construction of temporary shelters. The shelters known as bunkhouses are painted in bright orange, blue and green and are located away from the coast where much of the livelihoods and jobs are available.

Earlier this year, humanitarian groups criticized the DPWH for failing to meet international standards for housing typhoon survivors. The cramped shelters were recently improved to include more space, but the majority of the shelters still sit empty and unfinished around the island province.

In Tacloban, hundreds of families live in makeshift tents outside the city's convention center, a large arena facing the ocean that is known locally as the astrodome. Shelters in its perimeters are patched with donated blue tarps, thin plywood and scraps of metal. During a recent afternoon, children played while men and women attended to stalls selling local food.

Fearing the end of outside aid

Along the narrow pathway between the shelters, Virginia Ibañez hung clothes to dry. She recalled evacuating to the astrodome with her children and losing her husband, who stayed to guard their home.

"Everything was washed out," Ibañez said. "It's hard when everything that you save for is gone in one night." Her family owned a small cafeteria that was destroyed by Haiyan's storm surge along with their home and possessions. Ibañez and other displaced residents await more directions from a government planning to relocate them inland and on higher ground in the coming weeks.

The location, Ibañez said, may be too far from schools that many of the children attend. The lack of available jobs is also a concern she shares with neighbors.

Yet, relocation is not an option for many survivors determined to rebuild their homes in Tanauan, a coastal town that was one of the hardest hit by the typhoon.

"What we need the most is livelihood and a source of income," said Ramil Viersas, the chairman of a town in Tanauan. Viersas survived the storm with his two children and wife by clinging to a tree in front of what used to be their home.

Viersas limped with his crutches in front of their roadside business stall that he manages with his wife and children.

While swimming in the raging waters of the storm surge, a piece of glass wounded Viersas' right leg, which became infected and had to be amputated inside the temporary medical facilities staffed by the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders.

More than 700 families who live in the town either depend on fishing or farming. The fishermen's associations in the two towns were given materials to build five fiberglass boats last December by the region's government. The only finished boat, which is three times larger and costs three times more than the average ones, is still waiting for fishing materials, including nets and a motor.

"Our biggest fear is that when relief supplies are gone, there will be nothing," said Renato Caonte, a fisherman and the vice president of an association representing the nearby town of Bislig. "At least we could start to get back up before we're low on relief," Caonte added.

'Beginnings' of an adaptation strategy

The immediate needs of millions of people are shelters and livelihood. At the same time, long-term approaches to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation are gaining momentum at both the domestic and international level.

"I can see the beginnings of a national resilience strategy in the Philippines," Margareta Wahlström, U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, told ClimateWire during her recent visit to Tacloban.

"It's not just the government, but also business, local government, civil society and the media. This idea of national resilience is a positive concept, but also one that leads you to need precise and inclusive action," Wahlström said.

From the perspective of the risk, she said, a political agreement on serious emissions reduction is a key step toward a solution at the Paris climate summit in 2015.

While emissions reductions could alter the nature of future climate impacts, financing mechanisms could address short-term needs of countries where developmental adaptation to climate change is outpaced by climate-induced issues.

"It's really crucial that we design programs and funds so that those who have resources -- whether it's the public or private sector -- would have the motivation to pour investments and financing into what is really needed," Naderev Saño, the Philippines climate change commissioner and lead negotiator at climate summits, told ClimateWire during his visit to Tacloban.

Saño referred to the Green Climate Fund, a financing mechanism created by the United Nations that would help developing countries recover from climate-induced disasters while adopting ways to reduce emissions or expand renewable energy sources (ClimateWire, Feb. 19).

"Looking at what's in store for us in the Philippines, in the context of climate change, we can recover as much as we want," Saño said. "But unless we really build genuine resilience that is inclusive, just and is sustainable development, then you're always going to be worried about that next supertyphoon totally erasing everything you have gained."

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