Coming together to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan

Director of the ILO Philippines Office

As you approach Tacloban from the air, you get a clear idea of the mammoth scale of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

On the ground, you are confronted with apocalyptic scenes – houses destroyed, businesses reduced to rubble, fields turned to mud, and boats smashed to smithereens.

It’s just heart wrenching to think of the thousands of lives that were lost and the millions of livelihoods that were devastated. Many of these people were trying to build a life for themselves and their families, trying to get out of poverty. Then the storm came along and took everything away from them. Without social security nets, without decent work, many of these families run the risk of being thrust back into poverty and it could take generations to get out of it.

It’s difficult to imagine how people will ever manage to pick up the pieces, but I am confident they will. You can already see markets recovering. Progress is slow, but they are recovering. I saw people selling bananas, shoes and even entire roasted pigs (lechon) from makeshift street stalls. A few petrol pumps and even some ATM machines are working, shared taxis are running, and repair shops have reopened.

I truly believe the Filipino spirit is here. Tacloban and other affected areas will be rebuilt and livelihoods will be regained.

Watch: Rebuilding livelihoods in the wake of Haiyan’s destruction

But the question is: will the victims be more vulnerable, or is there an opportunity for those individuals who are already among the working poor, who were already vulnerable before the storm, to build back better?

And that’s an opportunity we must take up, by putting livelihoods at the centre of recovery efforts. If we don’t, then vulnerable people are doomed to experience this misery over and over again.

The government is well aware of this situation and is working hard to ensure immediate needs are met while setting the ground for longer term reconstruction. It’s pretty amazing to see the conditions under which the Department of Labor and Employment in Tacloban is currently working. The building was devastated, computers were destroyed and files were strewn around a vast area. Many staff members have experienced loss and personal tragedy. Despite the turmoil, work goes on with staff operating from a makeshift office in the parking lot.

I know we can make a difference because I’ve seen what has be done after Tropical Storm Washi(locally known as Sendong) hit the island of Mindanao in 2011.

Take for example the small village of Kabacsanan, in the hills above Iligan. When heavy rains came down, as was the case when the tropical storm hit, the dirt road would get washed away, cutting off people’s access to the market and depriving farmers of a livelihood. Now an ILO project is building a culvert to divert water from the road. During construction, workers get social security, health insurance, and they wear protective clothing. In addition, workers learn basic design and construction skills that will serve them well in the future employers. This is an example of how to build back better, build better infrastructure and people.

With support from the ILO, others people have learned skills, set up their own enterprises and businesses, opened day care centres, completed construction projects, and started fish farms. Two years on, peoples’ livelihoods have really improved, and they are no longer as vulnerable to disasters. This is the same process the ILO will use in areas hit by Haiyan.

But the path from relief to recovery is long and requires massive amounts of resources. We need to come together to put the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan on a path that leads to a better life.

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