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Disaster recovery must be linked with development

HONG KONG (SE): Recovery from climactic disasters such as the devastating typhoons experienced in The Philippines in recent years and rehabilitation activities must be directly linked with economic development to have any lasting impact.

A summit held in Cebu on November 7, the eve of the second anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), declared that for recovery to be long term it must assure adaptation to new conditions and be rooted in knowledge gleaned from the ecological traditions of local indigenous peoples, as well as being community based and involving the most vulnerable people in the decision-making process.

A priest from Tacloban in Leyte, Father Ramon Aguilos, described his parish as one of the hardest hit areas during Typhoon Haiyan on 8 November 2013.

He said that in the immediate aftermath, he believes that the Church was a powerful presence, because it became a wounded healer.

He said of his first Mass with the people after the typhoon hit, “Everyone tried to connect with each other in a huddle.”

UCAN reported that as Father Aguilos walked the corpse-strewn streets of the city searching for his own parents, he too drew strength from his wounded neighbours, as each derived courage from the other’s presence and sympathy.

Father Aguilos said that in his own area, where the Church has long been engaged in education and building social structures, it still struggled to connect education and its public liturgies with the demands of social justice.

He added that this made it difficult even for an experienced body to meet the real needs of communities that were at the time highly vulnerable to further disaster.

Nevertheless, Father Edu Gariguez, the director of Caritas Philippines, described the overall Church response as being second to none.

He told CBCP News that unlike most non-government organisations, the Church focussed on the nine hardest hit areas and followed through from immediate relief to supporting the growth of self-sustaining, self-reliant communities.

He added that organisations that did a lot of good work in the immediate aftermath failed to follow up, leaving people vulnerable to ongoing poverty and in grave danger from future disasters, whereas it is important to build resilience so that self-defence is possible in the future.

“They must go beyond mere relief and push through early recovery and eventual rehabilitation,” Father Gariguez said.

He said that with local financial help totalling 3.29 billion pesos ($6.1 million) and technical support from Caritas organisations all over the world, he believes that the Church has set an example of the power of networking at all levels.

“Communities must engage with governments, media and other stakeholders to work together to develop solutions. There is a critical need for a joint effort,” Father Gariguez stressed.

The programmes of the Church reestablished the lives of over 1.8 million people and have rehoused tens of thousands of families in typhoon resistent homes.

However, People Surge, a broad coalition of storm survivors in Tacloban, launched a Global Day of Rage against Neglect and Impunity, which culminated on the anniversary of the typhoon.

The group is critical of what it describes as the snail-paced construction of new homes and the lack of livelihood support on the part of the Philippine government.

“The disaster survivors’ testimonies are real. We speak from our concrete experiences at the grassroots,” Marissa Cabaljao, a spokesperson for the group, told UCAN.

She pointed out that only 534 permanent houses have been built out of a target of 13,801.

However, while the victims of Haiyan may complain of tardiness on behalf of the government, Father Jeemar Vera Cruz, from Iligan, is pointing to the victims of Typhoon Washi two years previously.

Father Vera Cruz says that he is hanging up his stole for the time being to run for governor, as he believes that although billions of pesos have poured into the province in aid, little has been done.

“The poor have lost so much. We must help them rebuild their lives,” Father Vera Cruz said. “This requires a measure of justice, charity and fairness,” he added.

Many expect that politicians have withheld aid money and will promise to release it during the upcoming election campaign simply to promote their own cause.

But Father Aguilos says he believes that the Church also has a different role to play, although it does need to break through its own lack of understanding.

But he stressed that with persistence and careful listening to the people the learning curve can be steep.

“As pastor of a Christian community, I realised that it is not for me to explain to the people the why of a disaster. I wouldn’t know myself. Instead, I have been assuring the faithful that as the creator of all things visible and invisible, God will put those puzzle pieces together to give meaning to all these experiences,” he said.

He called the rising of the spirit of sacrifice, generosity, compassion and love a more powerful force than the devastation, saying, “Beyond the staggering destruction we are now seeing challenges, the opportunity for healing and recovery, for renewal and transformation.”


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