Filipino fisher-folk regain the livelihoods they lost to Haiyan

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In light of the upcoming one year anniversary of typhoon Haiyan (this Saturday), our colleague in the ECHO Manila office met with Edgar Suganob Jr who survived the disaster. Edgar reflects on the tragedy that hit his family and explains how he managed to rebuild his life from scratch.

A year after it hit the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan – locally known as Yolanda - still leaves the most vivid memories for those who survived it. For good reason: even in a country habituated to cyclones, this was the strongest storm to ever make landfall in the country.

Edgar Suganob Jr., for example, a 23 year-old fisherman from Abuyog town in the south-eastern coast of Leyte Province, says he will never forget what he lived through back then. “I walked one whole day and one whole night right after the typhoon hit as I needed to reach Tacloban and look for my missing sister who I knew was trapped there at the height of the typhoon, he recalls. The whole area was completely ravaged, there were debris and dead bodies everywhere...”. He later found his sister alive, but she was so traumatised by the experience that she eventually migrated to Cebu City, on another island.

Edgar, his wife and their two small children aged three and five were lucky to survive the disaster, unlike the 7 000 Filipinos who perished in the Haiyan mayhem. Yet, having lost both their house as well as their fishing boat and gears – they had nothing left to survive. Edgar remembers how he waited in long queues at the distribution centers just to have at least one meal a day for his family. When food rations started to slow down, he joined his neighbours in salvaging fallen coconut trees in order to sell the timber. But he knew that this was just a temporary way to make ends meet. Without a peso in his pocket, he was totally helpless when it came to actually rebuilding his lost livelihood.

On 21 October 2014, however, Edgar saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That day, he received what he needed to regain his livelihood: a brand new boat engine along with fishing equipment, provided by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) thanks to funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). The boat itself was provided by the government, as this support to the fishermen of Abuyog was a collaboration between FAO, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the local government unit, aimed at rehabilitating fishing livelihoods of 5 000 families in the areas most devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

Overall, ECHO allotted a total of €30 million for emergency and early recovery assistance, benefitting a total of 1.2 million people in the eight most affected provinces along Haiyan's path (Palawan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Leyte, Samar, and Eastern Samar). Immediately after the typhoon, ECHO and its partners provided food, water, non-food items, emergency shelters (tarpaulins) and emergency communication equipment. Since then, the most vulnerable communities have been supported through cash-for-work programmes and cash grants, the repair of shelters, the rehabilitation of water supply systems and sanitation and washing facilities, the provision of primary health care and the repair of health facilities, and various rural livelihood projects. Special attention was also given to children, be it through psychosocial support or the reconstruction of school buildings and daycare centres.

The distribution of boat engines ended the day in Abuyog meant Edgar ended the day with a big smile, a happy heart, and peace of mind. “My fishing livelihood is back and this will help me a lot in bringing back my family’s life to how it was before Haiyan”, he said. Yes, there are still gruesome memories of the typhoon, but today Edgar chooses to put in his mind and in his heart the joy and laughter that he and his neighbors shared when they got their new boats and engines.