As the holidays approach, UBC professor Leonora C. Angeles surveys the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
Leonora C. Angeles, associate professor of Community and Regional Planning and Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia, is the principal investigator of a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Development project in the Angat River region in the Philippines. She offers her perspective on recovery efforts following Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the central Philippines last month.
What’s your assessment of the rebuilding effort in affected areas – what are the biggest challenges and successes so far?
Rebuilding, recovery and reconstruction will be painstakingly slow. Crumbling physical and social infrastructures existed in the devastated areas prior to Haiyan.
The biggest challenge during a crisis is finding a way to strengthen crippled capacities at a time when more immediate concerns like food and water are at the forefront. This does not mean there are no success stories. Haiyan’s devastation has effectively mobilized the private sector and channelled funds that were once misappropriated by elected representatives to post-disaster reconstruction.
What will Christmas be like in the Philippines this year? How difficult will the holidays be?
Some people in the most affected zones have told me that the timing of the disaster is terrible because of its proximity to Christmas. Extravagant lights and decorations will be replaced by low-key celebrations. However, the holidays in areas not as severely hit by the typhoon will surely lead people down a path of giving – prayers, gifts and supplies. Filipino people are generally fun loving and find humour in the everyday and the extraordinary. The capacity for those who are stricken by poverty or crises to remain resilient, stoic even, in the face of mounting hardships has never ceased to amaze me.
What do you foresee as the biggest priorities over the next years in terms of recovery and rebuilding?
The cyclone razed 600 schools, 500 hospitals and close to 1.2 million houses to the ground – and these are conservative estimates that overlook previously damaged areas. An integrated approach that addresses the following variety of problems at once is needed: How do you identify hazardous, no-build zones and connect freshly built homes with related social and public physical infrastructure? How do you ensure homes are not rebuilt in precarious areas and have people that lived in dangerous zones resettle in places where they can also find work? An effort must be made to integrate not just sectors, but various levels of government and institutions – village, municipal, provincial, regional, national — to combine the provision of social services with effective land-use planning and climate risk adaptation strategies.