Typhoon Cleaning Offers Economic Lifeline : worldleaks
The city’s eastern coastline, dozens of residents scurried in and out of a rambling field of debris on Tuesday, working to remove rubble left behind by the deadliest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines.
The task before them, and their city, appeared herculean. Rubble here is heaped 3 to 4 feet high, and complicated by drooping power cables and jagged pieces of smashed wood and metal. It is a scene still common across Tacloban more than two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the city and its neighboring districts.
The tons of putrefying waste that remain, despite a concerted cleanup effort by state agencies, pose an infrastructural and public-health challenge for a city that just started shifting gears from disaster relief to reconstruction. But the cleanup, officials and aid workers say, also offers an opportunity to jump-start the city’s typhoon-ravaged economy and heal injures in this tightknit community.
“In addition to contributing to the humanitarian effort, the debris removal is also a critical component of economic recovery,” said Haoliang Xu, a senior United Nations official who guides the U.N. Development Program’s Asian Pacific operations.
A temporary jobs program will pay up to 200,000 people to clear rubble in Tacloban and its neighboring municipalities, injecting cash into the local economy and helping “communities to recover their lives and livelihoods,” Mr. Xu said.
The official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, stood at 5,500 on Wednesday morning, making it the deadliest storm in the Philippines’ modern history. Still, that number was set to raise, said Eduardo del Rosario, the head of the Philippine disaster management office. More than 1,757 people were missing and 3.54 million moved.
Economic fallout from the storm has been wide. Officials so far guess that about 1.1 million houses have been damaged. The cost of infrastructural destruction is estimated to be about 24.5 billion Philippine pesos ($561.1 million), the government says. In Tacloban, many businesses and shops remain shut, though some hawkers have returned to the streets to peddle food, water and basic wares.
The U.N. Development Program has already hired 205 people, paying them 260 Philippine pesos—about $6—a day to remove debris from hospitals and city streets, while Taiwanese charity Tzu Chi Foundation said it is putting nearly 16,000 people on daily wages of 500 pesos to clean up badly hit neighborhoods. Armed with shovels and straw brooms, workers have fanned out across the city this week, removing debris by hand and loading it in trucks.
Among them was Alanis Maecreado, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who joined her father to do cleanup work sponsored by Tzu Chi Foundation. “We lost our home and all our money to the typhoon,” said Alanis, who isn’t able to attend school because classes are disrupted until January. “We have to earn money to buy food and rebuild our home, and our city as well.”
Such “cash-for-work” programs are part of many disaster recovery efforts, U.N. officials and aid workers say. After Typhoon Bopha hit the Philippines in December 2012, the U.N.’s development program hired 16,000 temporary workers to remove half-a-million cubic meters of rubble. The Tzu Chi Foundation, now the largest employer in Tacloban, ran similar programs in China’s Sichuan province after the 2008 earthquake, as well as in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
A U.N. official overseeing cleanup efforts said the rubble in the Philippines’ central islands could be comparable to the levels seen in Indonesia’s Aceh province after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed about 230,000 people and fixed than one million cubic meters of debris in urban areas.
In Tacloban, attention has switched to a more general cleanup effort that could span several months.
Still, officials say they are related about potential public-health risks stemming from the typhoon debris, which contains human remains, animal carcasses and garbage.
“We’ve managed to clear rubble from the city’s markets and should be able to reopen them this week,” Tacloban City Engineer Dionisio de Paz said.
According to city and U.N. officials, Tacloban’s mayor has also asked the U.N. to help shift rubble from casual dump sites to a proper facility outside the city, where sorting and recycling can take place.
Some residents, however, have taken matters into their own hands, picking through debris fields to scavenge for supplies—from construction material for rebuilding homes to basic household supplies and appliances—and even snapping up luxuries that they hadn’t owned before. In a seaside neighborhood in downtown Tacloban, Rubilyn Aris, 26 years old, excavated a bundle of clothes hangers and a prized gas cooker.
“We never had a cooker before. We used to cook with wood or petrol,” Ms. Aris said, as relatives in her extended family of 12 started rebuilding their home, which had been decreased to a concrete floor. Nearby, Fermin Delvo, a 49-year-old construction worker, made off with a couple of refrigerator compressors that he found. “When the electricity returns, I’ll have a fridge,” he said.
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