1 month on, progress in Philippine typhoon zone

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

TACLOBAN -- The government is back at work, and markets are laden with fruits, pork, fish and bread. Shredded trees are sprouting new leaves. Above all, the sounds of a city getting back on its feet fill the air: the roar of trucks hauling debris, the scrape of shovel along pavement, the ping of hammer on nails.

One month since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), signs of progress in this shattered Philippine city are mixed with reminders of the scale of the disaster and the challenges ahead. Bodies are still being uncovered from beneath the debris. Tens of thousands are living amid the ruins of their former lives, underneath shelters made from scavenged materials and handouts.

City administrator Tecson Lim said a sense of "normality" has returned and has begun talking of a silver lining: "The opportunity to transform our city into a global city, a city that is climate change resilient and that can perhaps be a model."

Rebuilding will take at least three years, and success will depend on good governance and access to funds. The Philippines is currently posting impressive economic growth, but corruption is endemic and the country remains desperately poor, with millions living in slums.

Yolanda plowed through Tacloban and other coastal areas in the Visayas last November 8, leaving over 5,700 dead and more than 1,700 missing throughout the region. Some 4 million people were displaced.

One couple in the town had other things on their minds Saturday.

Earvin Nierva and Riza Elmundo exchanged vows at a church and then posed for photos in a hard hit area of the city. "This gives hope to people that we can rise up," said Elmundo. Pumping his fist, her new husband said, "Rise Tacloban!"

The storm, one of the strongest to hit land on record, triggered an international response, led by the United States and U.N. agencies.

The Philippine government has joined them in paying for food-for-work and cash-for-work emergency employment for thousands who lost their livelihoods. The workers clean up the twisted houses, trees and others debris that still cover large parts of the city and receive about 500 pesos ($11.36) a day.

On Friday, the World Bank approved $500 million in budget support that the Philippine government can use for short-term recovery and reconstruction. It is also providing technical assistance in designing housing, hospitals, schools and public facilities that can withstand super typhoons, strong earthquakes and severe floods.

Lim said a development master plan soon to be completed calls for people living in areas prone to storm surges to be relocated farther inland. He said while some residents might resist moving from their former neighborhoods, many others now were receptive to relocation after surviving the typhoon.

The storm led to a breakdown in government services and there were scenes of chaos as hungry survivors broke into shops, homes and gasoline stations. Lim said 19 of the 26 government agencies in the city are now operating and about 15 percent of the city has electricity.

"Psychologically, there is a sense of normalcy," he said.

Thousands are already beginning to rebuild in areas that might well be designated not safe for human habitation. (AP)

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