The devastation of two large islands — Leyte and Samar — was such that recovery can only be a slow and painstaking process. So much will depend on how quickly and how correctly government intervenes in shaping the recovery.
The two islands were visited by powerful typhoons in the past, events that took horrible tolls in human life. Late in the 19th century, historical accounts record a powerful typhoon and storm surge that largely demolished Tacloban. Early in the 20th century, accounts by the American colonial government put the casualty estimates at 15,000.
Those two typhoon-induced calamities basically decimated the Waray nation, a tough people used to eking out a livelihood from hard earth. They surely induced outward migration such as we see now in the tens of thousands fleeing the area of devastation.
More recently, we recall the flash floods that snuffed out 5,000 lives in Ormoc — a casualty toll just surpassed in the NDRRMC’s controversial body count for Yolanda. A few years back, mud flows caused by torrential rains buried communities in Guinsaugon, Leyte.
Clearly, any reconstruction plan should take into account the cyclical devastation brought on by late-year super-typhoons.
Nearly all the major population centers in the two island economies are coastal, due obviously to the reliance of these communities on municipal fishing. Coastal communities, especially those facing the Pacific Ocean, are most vulnerable. History demonstrates that repeatedly.
Island ecologies are particularly fragile, vulnerable to the slightest changes in climate and to severe weather disturbances. Island economies, tending to be more self-contained, are likewise vulnerable to disruption.
Samar, for instance, is said to be 80% dependent on coconuts. In the last typhoon, they lost 80% of their coconut trees. The length of recovery will be stipulated by the number of years it will take for the new coconut seedlings to mature.
The fishing boats of municipal fishermen in the coastal municipalities were wiped out by the typhoon, smashed to smithereens if not dragged back to the ocean bottom. The only way their livelihood could recover is to acquire new boats and nets. That requires capitalization way beyond their present means. There is a large role here for microfinance to play.
ILO estimates Yolanda took away 5 million jobs. That is a major addition to the already bloated unemployment and underemployment rate burdening our economy even before the storm struck. Our national economy is barely able to create a million jobs a year. The newly unemployed in Samar and Leyte will require some sort of Marshall Plan that will creatively regenerate jobs in large quantities.
If jobs are not quickly regenerated, there will be massive outward migration from the two islands. That can only complicate the task of reviving the local economies of the two islands.
There is a role here for development economists to play. I know that Gerardo Sicat has been doing local economy studies for years. I am sure he has some wisdom to impart on this aspect of the recovery.
In 2004, a massive tsunami took over 200,000 lives in the countries around the Indian Ocean. A great number of the casualties was absorbed by Indonesia’s Aceh province, particularly by its capital city Banda Aceh.
Banda Aceh is now fully rebuilt. The man overseeing the rehabilitation of that severely devastated province has a lot of insights for us. It might be useful to invite him over to share his wisdom.
Among the more significant observations he made was to avoid an inflationary spike in the area of reconstruction. I imagine we could avoid that by planning reconstruction so that we use as much locally sourced materials as possible. We have an army of very talented architects and engineers willing to volunteer to help design the reconstruction.
The reconstruction of Samar and Leyte will be our biggest effort since the great war. Because the most devastated cities were nearly entirely levelled, that presents us a blank page to better design our human settlements. Decades of weak governance caused our settlements to go unplanned. We have not much of urban planning to speak of since the architect Burnham designed some of our cities during the American colonial period.
The reconstruction effort presents us with an opportunity to rebuild cities so that they will be more resistant to severe weather, more energy efficient communities with more sustainable local economies. This requires planning on a grand scale and imagination on a heroic plane.
We do not know as yet how the reconstruction will be financed. Government still has to figure that one out.
What is sure is that the reconstruction, if it proceeds apace, unlike those hapless PPP projects that remain on the shelves, will be a monument to our capacity as a nation. It must be a reconstruction for the future.
It is an effort that requires sterling leadership —which could be the hitch.
Thank you, Manny Pacquiao, for bringing this nation joy in the most dreadful of times. He is the most visible Filipino today capable of heroism on a grand scale.
Last Sunday, volunteers paused from their toil and survivors massed in muddy auditoriums to watch our fighter rise from last year’s crushing defeat to reestablish himself in the Parthenon of sports. Pacquiao, much older than Rios, proved also the wiser of the two gladiators. He battled tactically and according to a well-laid strategy. He persevered. He triumphed.
It is not true that boxing is for the dumb. Like all sports, it requires heart and mind as much as brute force.