Philippines: rebuilding after the typhoons, nine months on

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More than 600 families, who were left homeless when typhoons Ketsana, Parma and Mirinae lashed the Philippines in late 2009, now have roofs over their heads thanks to assistance from the Philippine Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The 630 families - 30 in La Union, 560 in Laguna and 40 in Pangasinan provinces of Philippines' largest island, Luzon - are among the first to finish building their own transitional shelters after receiving building materials from the Red Cross. The construction of 1,600 more shelters in Bulacan, Kalinga, La Union, Laguna, Pangasinan and Rizal provinces is underway or in the planning stage.

Many of these families were living in poverty before the typhoons struck and could not afford to rebuild their homes or replace property lost to the typhoon.

Cristy Fornes, 43, from Victoria in Laguna, recounts: "Before Ondoy [the local name for Typhoon Ketsana], we struggled to put food on the table. It just added to our misery; life became difficult. Then Mirinae swept away all hope. We didn't know how we could possibly rebuild our house."

From tents to a better life

In the aftermath of the typhoons, Cristy and her husband erected a tent to live in, which housed them, their four children and her father. Then, early this year, they were informed by the Laguna chapter of the Philippine Red Cross that they met the criteria to receive shelter assistance from the Red Cross.

Once they had received their shelter kit, it only took Cristy's brother and her 17-year-old son a month to construct their transitional, cyclone-resistant shelter. As they put it, they are now "living a better life".

Construction of the transitional shelters is being carried out through bayanihan - the common tradition in the Philippines where community members volunteer to help each other.

In addition to transitional shelters, families also received essential kitchen and cleaning items. And in the coming months, the Red Cross will support them to re-establish livelihoods. Many people lost their livelihood when food reserves were lost, farmland, crops and fishing equipment were destroyed, and small businesses were disrupted.

"The Red Cross is there for you before, during, and after the storm," said Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of the Philippine National Red Cross, speaking during a relief distribution in Laguna earlier this month, which doubled as a ceremony to mark completion of the homes.

Tools and supplies to rebuild

Besides transitional shelter, the National Society and IFRC have provided shelter materials such as corrugated galvanized iron sheets, coconut lumber, electrical wire and sockets, and tools such as hammers, saws and chisels to 5,000 families, enabling them to repair their damaged homes.

For Elvie Augren, a 33-year-old mother of six, the shelter repair items provided by the Red Cross were a "godsend".

Her family is one of the 1,000 that received shelter repair materials in Kalinga, a mountainous landlocked province, 480 kilometres from the capital in Manila.

"Everytime it rained or there was a storm, our house would get flooded because the roof leaked. Now, the new roof is stronger and can withstand the rains," explains Elvie.

Beneficiaries still need help

In all, the Red Cross plans to construct 6,500 cyclone-resistant transitional shelters for people whose homes were destroyed and to provide repair materials to 10,000 households whose homes were partially damaged.

However, because of funding constraints, thousands of families in need may not get a safe roof over their heads. The emergency appeal launched by IFRC for 16.3 million Swiss francs (16.1 million US dollars or 10.9 million euros) has raised only 9 million Swiss francs.

"The rainy season is here, yet due to funding limitations, we are only able to provide transitional shelter assistance to 3,500 families and repair kits to the 5,000 families we have already served," says Selvaratnam Sinnadurai, head of IFRC's country office in the Philippines.

"With just over half the funds we sought having been secured, we can reach just over half our target of 16,500 families."

The implementation of transitional shelters has also taken longer to implement because there were so many obstacles relating to land. The vast majority of houses destroyed by the typhoons were in locations considered at risk from water-related hazards. The Philippine Red Cross and IFRC working with local authorities to find safer land for displaced families where their new homes can be constructed.

"Relocation of households from areas at risk of flooding to higher ground is necessary to ensure their safety," says Sandro Kushashvili, IFRC head of operations for the Philippines.

"Our approach is to combine recovery with reducing the risk of disasters, and empowering communities to be better prepared to face future hazards."