Philippines: The slow process of typhoon recovery

from IRIN
Published on 31 Mar 2008
LEGAZI, 31 March 2008 (IRIN) - Abundio Nuñez Jr, Operations Officer of the Albay Provincial Public Safety and Management Office, describes the Reming (Durian) typhoon - the most powerful of a series of typhoons to hit Albay Province in the Bicol region of the Philippines in late 2006 - as devastating "190 percent of the province".

The typhoon was indeed destructive, damaging or destroying thousands of homes and schools. According to a joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Department of Agriculture Assessment, it wiped out more than 30,000 hectares of rice land and millions of dollars of high value commercial crops in Albay and Camarines Sur Provinces alone, while leaving the fishing industry equally devastated with some 1,200 fishing boats destroyed.

"In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, it was critical that an agricultural rehabilitation programme be launched quickly, to enable farmers to produce more food and for fishermen to rebuild their boats," Romualdo J Elvira, Agricultural Rehabilitation Consultant for the Albay Provincial Government, told IRIN.

Orlando Binaning, the Hindi barangay (village) captain in the municipality of Bacagay, said: "Almost 1 million pesos (about US$24,000) in vegetable and fruit crops and rice were destroyed, including all the coconut trees."

He said 50 percent of residents made some income from coconuts and it would take three to five years for the trees to be productive again.

Livestock perished

Some 60 percent of the rice crop was also destroyed, the rest badly damaged and the existing irrigation canals washed away.

In addition, most of the village's livestock, an important source of food and income, were killed or left in an extremely weakened condition.

On 31 January, 2007, provincial agricultural authorities working with FAO began distributing rice, corn and vegetable seeds, fertilisers, sweet potato cuttings, taro seedlings and farm tools to 7,118 farmers and 574 fishermen in three Bicol provinces, said Elvira.

Another programme has been providing fishermen with wood and other materials to build boats or rehabilitate those partially destroyed, as well as fish nets and hooks and some tilapia (fish) to restock fish ponds.

In Hindi, 52 fishermen received plywood and polymer to repair or build new boats. Fishing communities in 36 barangays in Albay province also received this assistance. In nearby Barangay Buhatan, Santo Domingo Municipality, the Italian government were contracted to build 64 boats, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided assistance to build another 69 boats and supply nets.

Provincial authorities, with WFP, distributed food from February to November 2007 to the farmers and fishermen and their families while they carried out repairs and rehabilitations.

Yields increase

A little over a year later, the farmers have seen successful yields both in rice and vegetables. "The high yields are particularly good because of the fertiliser and the rebuilding of the irrigation system," E Berga, the head of irrigation for the Hindi Barangay Farmers Group, told IRIN. "With our earning from the rice crop, many of us now have savings to buy more fertiliser."

However, he expressed concerns at the recent rise in fertiliser prices and some disappointment that no effort had been taken by provincial or local authorities to replace their livestock.

Elvira said the provincial agriculture department was working with the farmers on establishing processing capabilities and developing new markets for their agricultural products.

Many fishermen returned to the sea in May 2007, but others are still waiting for their new boats to be built or repaired. In the mean time, they borrow boats from friends and relatives.

"The fishing has been poor, what with the over fishing and pollution," said Arnel Boholet, a fisherman in Hindi. "We are now experiencing a 30 percent drop in income from fishing - we used to catch three kilos a day, now only one."

Need for policy

He and his fellow fishermen remain hopeful that conditions will improve. They are calling for a development policy on the industrial pollution of water, a plan to replant the mangrove swamps that were destroyed (an important habitat for fish), and for ways to enhance their livelihoods, such as the use of fish cages.

While the assistance has been invaluable to farmers and fishermen, many communities still await help. This includes 216 destroyed boats that are yet to be replaced at four outer islands off Albay province, as well as municipalities along the coast of Albay that lost hundreds of boats to the typhoon.

The provincial government hopes to secure funding from the national coffers for several thousand new boats by October 2008.