Five years after Super Typhoon “Yolanda” devastated Tacloban City in 2013, thousands of those who fled for their lives are back in harm’s way, living again in the same coastal areas that the government has declared unsafe.
Yolanda struck in the predawn darkness of Nov. 8, 2013 as the then strongest typhoon to ever hit land, leaving more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines.
The wall of seawater the typhoon sent crashing into densely populated area—known as storm surge—is one of the key reasons it was so deadly.
Many people simply did not understand the term and did not evacuate despite official warnings.
Now, despite the horrors of the past, some survivors have returned to the same storm surge-threatened areas where their families lived before Yolanda.
It is, as Moustafa Osman, a Britain-based disaster management expert, says, the calculus poor people make in calamity-prone nations in Asia and Africa.
“Everywhere the single most difficult thing to do is to move people from their own village or territory and put them in a strange place,” he told the Agence France-Presse. “Unless you have a proper plan and a better alternative they won’t go.”
Substandard housing, difficulties in earning a livelihood, no transportation and even conflict with the existing residents of a resettlement area are habitual barriers.
In Tacloban, some 15,000 of the poorest families were ordered relocated, yet many have not moved and those who have are struggling. Some of the government-proposed housing in safer areas don’t even have running water and electricity—and are far from areas where they can make a living.
The failures of the previous administration to take care of the typhoon survivors have been well documented, despite the release of a glossy report entitled “It Happened: Learning from Typhoon Yolanda.” It is unclear, as of yet, how much better the current administration can do.
Maria Rosario Felizco, Oxfam country director for the Philippines, says the need to locate communities in areas less vulnerable to disasters has not been fully met.
“That’s the lesson we must learn. We must not wait for... a disaster before we think of that,” she adds.
But given the pattern of increasingly destructive storms that visit the country every year, and the lack of a realistic plan to relocate those who have moved back to danger zones, it seems we haven’t really learned all that much from Yolanda. Tragically, in these climate change days, the penalty for slow learners is often death.