What Should We Do After Haiyan?

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by Atty. Sarah Jane Suguitan

DAYS before typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in local news) made landfall, the entire Philippines was already alerted by local and international weather stations. We knew ahead of time that Haiyan will take many lives, ruin many buildings, flood many roads, uproot many trees and place many of our kababayans on square one. Square one is where everything and everyone has to start from scratch. Square one is the land before airports, houses, and cell sites were built. Square one is where all you have is the landscape and thousands of survivors. Square one where Haiyan left many of us. The question is, how do we rebuild? What’s the plan?

I asked this question to our authorities, and once again, the central government has stonewalled on its answer. Silence. Hesitation. Unpreparedness. What authorities are proud of are the relief operations. I do not mean to trivialize relief operations, but, when they are not coupled by any rehabilitation efforts, relief operations transform victims into beggars. If all the authorities plan on doing is to conduct relief operations, we will soon have squatters all over the affected islands of Bohol, Cebu and Leyte.

Since the central government is low on vision and planning, let’s light the path for them (and pray that they may have the humility to listen instead of walking out).

Simultaneous with relief operations, let’s restore power, water and phone lines by creative means. We can fly in alternative energy sources and place call centers (as in, an area with functioning phones offering free calls). All communication lines must be restored and kept open not only for the victims, but also for those conducting rehabilitation missions.

Employ thousands of unemployed nurses, utility men and underemployed professionals from all over the country and deploy them to the disaster-hit areas to conduct search-and-rescue missions. Let’s not ask for volunteers. Let’s employ the unemployed who can devote their full time, attention and expertise to searching for and rescuing all the living and the dead.

Construct shelters that are livable. Existing structures are suspect (and may have circumvented the standards under our building codes). Local shelters are merely big basketball courts turned refugee camps. Imagine yourself and your family fleeing to these basketball courts with only your clothes on while waiting for the storm to subside. There’s no potable water and comfort rooms to relieve yourself. You eat in doled-out paper plates on the floor. You are given uncooked rice (bigas), canned sardines and noodles in their plastic wrapper.(Apparently, victims are expected to flee with their gas tanks and stoves.)

How are you supposed to cook these food given by the social welfare office? If you can’t imagine yourself in such a situation, neither can the victims. So instead of those raw junk food, we should construct or install portable kitchens, mess halls and toilets in evacuation centers.  What’s the use of raw food if you have no means to cook? What’s the use of cooked food if you have to eat it with your bare hands while sitting on the floor? And what’s the use of eating if you have no place to pee or poop? Conditions are dire in these evacuation centers. Let’s make them livable, not the substandard things that are like the DPWH-made roads and bridges. I mean, livable!

Foreign aid as well as local donations must be trackable. It must be assumed that donating to local government units do not trickle down to the end-users (victims) and instead, end up in our leaders’ private bank accounts.
In the medium term (if not, ASAP), we will need to rebuild. With tens of thousands whose lives are on hold, low-cost housing, temporary schools, stores and banking systems will be naturally formed. If the government continues to fail in providing basic services, the private sector will take over. Unfortunately for the poor, they will not be able to afford that, and that is the consequence of voting poorly.
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