With sustained wind speeds of over 315 km/h, and gusts estimated at up to 378 km/h, Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, was the strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history. But when the typhoon hit the Philippines islands of Leyte and Samar, it was an accompanying storm surge – measured at up to six meters in some places – that led to the deaths of over 6,000 people, and flattened nearly every manmade structure on the islands’ eastern coasts.
Christian housing ministry Habitat for Humanity specializes in relief and development aid that is shelter-focused, and in the first 10 days/two weeks following Yolanda, Habitat conducted site assessments, set up a supply chain, and started distributing emergency shelter kits and shelter repair kits. Habitat also launched a global fundraising drive, which it hopes will enable the distribution of 30,000 shelter repair kits in the coming weeks and months.
Leonilo ‘Tots’ Escalada, Chief Operating Officer of Habitat for Humanity Philippines, says, “Often after a disaster, families spend as much as six months living in tents or barracks. Our shelter repair kits will put recipients in the fast lane toward recovery because we provide them with the materials and the tools to improve their housing situation. And we’re showing them how to build back better, so we’re also giving them hope.”
Like many relief and development organizations, Habitat had a presence, and conducted operations in the Philippines long before Typhoon Haiyan hit the Eastern Visayas region. In its typhoon relief operations, Habitat is focusing its efforts on the Bantayan groups of islands to the north-west of Cebu and in Daanbantayan in northern Cebu; in Javier and Ormoc on Leyte Island; and in Guiuan on Samar Island.
Heron Holloway, Asia-Pacific Disaster Communications Manager for Habitat for Humanity International, says the organization began fundraising very soon after Yolanda struck, both in the Philippines and globally, and that it has no fundraising target. “The more money that is raised, the more families can be helped, and there is no fixed campaign timeline – we will continue to fundraise as long as there is a need,” she says.
In its initial Yolanda response, and in part thanks to funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), Habitat has worked in partnership with Christian Aid, World Vision and MapAction, delivering 4,000 emergency shelter kits. Habitat has also distributed shelter repair kits in partnership with Lutheran World Relief, and plans to continue to partner with other relief organizations where it makes sense to do so.
In the longer term, according to Holloway, Habitat for Humanity Philippines will coordinate with government agencies and community-based organizations operating at barangay (municipal ward) and municipality level. “We are confident we can do even bigger things for the victims of this typhoon. And we’re not going anywhere,” says Escalada. As an organization, we are staying until communities are redeveloped. Our end is ultimately to build community.”
UPDATE: On January 16, Habitat signed an agreement with the Philippines government to build 852 houses for families that lost their homes to the typhoon. The houses will be built on a 10-hectare resettlement site in the barangay of Kawayan, in Tacloban city. The latest Philippine government figures show that more than 1.1 million homes were either damaged or destroyed by the typhoon.
“Signing this agreement in Tacloban is a major step in Habitat for Humanity’s long-term rebuilding efforts following Haiyan. Safe, decent shelter provides the platform on which much of post-disaster assistance is built – health, water, sanitation, livelihoods, safety, education – and is one of the most pressing issues currently facing Haiyan-affected families,” said Rick Hathaway, Habitat for Humanity Asia-Pacific Vice President.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.