A month later, the worst-hit town looks to the future
COSTA BRAVA, a coastal settlement in Tacloban, may have been tempting fate with its name. It is flanked by the open sea on one side and by a bay on the other. When a wall of water from typhoon Haiyan hit it soon after dawn on November 8th the destruction was quick and devastating. This was one of the poorest parts of town, and the flimsy shacks and jerry-built houses offered little resistance. Costa Brava was literally flattened. One of the few remaining residents, known as Mr Butz, estimates that almost half of the people here lost their lives that morning. They had been advised to leave, but many made their own disastrous misjudgments about the severity of the storm and stayed. Mr Butz himself lost four children.
A month after Haiyan, the other worst-affected coastal areas remain desolate. Much of the land around Tacloban, the town that bore the brunt of the storm surge, resembles old photographs of a first-world-war battlefield: hundreds of broken trees; craters of mud and debris where houses once stood; upended cars and vans. Although most of the bodies have now been cleared away, corpses are still being discovered. The death toll in Tacloban itself is now thought to be about 2,500. Overall, the figure stands at about 6,000, with a further 1,800 or so missing.
Yet even after this hammering, Tacloban shows signs of recovery. Electricity has been restored to parts of town. The number registered at official evacuation centres has fallen rapidly to just 18,000 (out of an original population of about 220,000) and street-markets are trading again. The roads are largely clear of debris.
Much of this is because of the rapid influx of foreign aid. In the days after Haiyan struck, civil administration broke down and looting was widespread. But now a formidable logistical pipeline covers basic needs. In total across the country about 3m people still need emergency food aid, but that is being distributed well, as are rice seeds for the coming planting season. Few signs of malnutrition and no outbreaks of the diseases, such as tetanus, that can often follow such disasters have been recorded.
Indeed, the city authorities are already as concerned with preventing future disasters as they are with mopping up after this one. Many have paid tribute to Filipinos’ resilience in adversity, but the task now, argues Tecson John Lim, a senior city official in Tacloban, is to “rebuild a better city”. Most important, he wants to stop the construction of new homes within 40 metres of the seashore. This could mean the end of places like Costa Brava.
Many fishermen will be loth to leave their coastal homes. But the authorities hope the scale of the disaster may persuade them to move to new settlements, such as one being built inland, 8km (5 miles) up the coast. Tacloban has asked the central government for 18.5 billion pesos ($426m) for such works. But the city is governed by a different political party from that of President Benigno Aquino, and officials in Tacloban fear this may influence the disbursement of funds. Such political differences have undoubtedly blemished the national relief effort.
But the emergency-relief operation itself may have sown some seeds of a better future for the city, if the momentum can be maintained. The UN Population Fund, for example, has been running an outreach campaign to attract pregnant and breast-feeding women to its mobile clinics for advice and monitoring. On December 13th, for example, 470 women came, far more than normally attend any sort of health centre. From this, one doctor hopes, Tacloban’s mothers may learn the benefits of seeking medical help, so that the murderous Haiyan will have brought at least one fortuitous, lasting benefit.
Dec 21st 2013 | TACLOBAN | From The Economist.