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Where have all the bodies gone?

TACLOBAN (UCAN): The search for the missing victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which hit the Central Visayas in The Philippines on 8 November 2013, is still going on, two years after official figures show that approximately a little over 6,000 people died and some 2,500 may be considered to be missing.

However, official figures of the death toll vary and officials from People Surge, a survivors’ organisation set up to monitor recovery efforts, say that the real figure is may well be closer to three times the number the government claims.

The chairperson of People Surge, Efleda Bautista, said that in fact, there has been no serious accounting of the number of victims from the tragedy.

“Our search for justice is not only for the living,” Bautista said. “Those who died also deserve justice and we can start it by identifying who these people are.”

The official government gazette has recorded 6,193 people as dying during the typhoon, but the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has recorded 6,300 victims.

The official gazette reports that 1,061 people remain missing. However, various media reports estimate that at least 7,500 people died and some 2,500 others are missing.

“There is no clear basis on how the government arrived at those figures,” Bautista pointed out, adding that many people’s bodies were buried without being identified, while a significant number of others were washed out to sea and never found.

Bautista believes that the death toll could be a lot more than 10,000, pointing out that the 20,000 cadaver bags provided by the World Health Organisation were nearly all used.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 4.1 million people were displaced by Haiyan, which damaged some 1.1 million homes, and families that lost their loved ones during the disaster are losing hope of finding their remains.

A survey carried out by the research body, Social Weather Stations, in November 2014 shows that while 43 per cent of people were very hopeful that missing relatives may be found, 41 per cent said they were only somewhat not hopeful and another eight per cent said that they were not hopeful at all.

“We are a predominantly Catholic country and our culture values our departed relatives,” Bautista said. “No matter how poor we are, we always want to make sure that those who die are given proper burial and prayers are said for them.”

Social Watch Philippines, a civil society group in Manila, noted that rebuilding the lives of Haiyan survivors only remains a promise two years after the mighty winds, rain and high tides hit the area.

“With the magnitude of the problem, the government should stop treating the reconstruction effort in business-as-usual mode,” Leonor Magtolis Briones, the convener of the group, said.

The results of a study done by Social Watch, which were released on October 4, show that a total of 205,128 families continue to live in high-risk zones.

The report also notes that only 16,544 housing units have been built since the disaster struck, far below the targeted production level.

J.V. Ejercito, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Resettlement, said that at the rate the project is going, only 9,000 to 10,000 units can be built in a year.

“If nothing changes, the government might only be able to accomplish the target of 205,128 houses in the next 18 years,” Ejercito said.

The Social Watch study also shows that only about 25 per cent of the government investment requirements for livelihood has been released to agencies implementing projects for victims.

“We should not lose hope that we will still recover,” Benedictine Sister Editha Eslopor told a gathering of Haiyan survivors October 3.

Sister Eslopor urged the people to remain vigilant amid reports that funds intended for disaster victims may be used to fund the candidacy of politicians who are running in next year’s elections.

“We should not allow aid for survivors to be used in politics,” she said. “We are still not okay, poverty is still rampant and many people remain hungry.”


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