By Reina Garcia
On May 8th, exactly half a year after the strongest typhoon ever recorded bulldozed its way through Eastern Visayas, I found myself in Tacloban City – one of the places that was hardest hit by Haiyan (Yolanda).
Throughout the duration of my stay in Tacloban, and after, people would ask me, kamusta na ang Tacloban? Nakabangon na ba? (How is Tacloban now? Has it recovered?) On one hand, the roads were fixed and cleared of debris. People have rebuilt and repaired their homes. More and more stores and shops have reopened for business. Electricity was restored for most of the city. Jeepneys and multicabs have increased in number, according to locals. The controversial bunkhouses looked better, if only superficially, due to fresh coats of colourful paint. Those who have lost dear ones are able to smile, and joke again.
On the other hand, you could still see debris and destroyed infrastructure everywhere. Tents from UNHCR, USAID, and other humanitarian organizations stand next to destroyed houses, and in open fields. A couple of months ago, establishments would close at 3 in the afternoon because public transport vehicles were scarce. Now, a minor improvement – many stores close at 4pm, still due to the lack of public transport.
Some major department stores remain closed, while the biggest mall only has its grocery section open, as well as makeshift spaces for hardware and other dry goods. Things that are so basic, that you can easily in any supermarket in Metro Manila – such as the requisite tabo at timba (dipper and pail) in every Filipino bathroom – are in short supply in a store.
We visited the relocation site in northern Tacloban for those who are living in the no-build zones. We saw foundations and frames of houses being built; none completed yet, no resident transferred. In a couple of months, the rainy season shall start again, bringing with it the threat of the next round of typhoons.
So if you ask me, the answer is yes, Tacloban is recovering. But as to whether the recovery is fast enough, or whether help reaches those who need it the most, that remains to be seen.
The pre-departure area of Tacloban’s airport is, at first glance, a shocking sight. The walls were of plain concrete, and the windows had no glass, and you have no choice but to get used to the deafening sound of the planes arriving and departing. Two flights before my own, I saw a group of ground staff in their fluorescent vests line up in front of a plane that was about to depart; they seemed to be waiting for something. As the plane started to back up and turn towards the runway, the staff suddenly waved at the plane, and I saw the pilot on the flight deck waving back. The gesture was so simple, yet seemed to speak volumes of the gratitude of recovery, and the hope of building back better.#