Haiyan six months on: A promising start on the long road to recovery

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Typhoon Haiyan affected more than 142,000 fishermen, with some areas losing 95 percent of their commercial boats and equipment. Photo: UNDP in the Philippines

Six months after one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded on earth slammed into the Philippines last November, killing more than 6,200 people and displacing over 4 million, the physical signs of recovery are increasingly visible.

Roads have been cleared, over 120,000 households have received help to rebuild, and nearly all the damaged schools and hospitals have re-opened.

While the costs of the disaster are better understood after six months, the human suffering continues to take its toll. People who were already tackling extreme poverty, including many living in the Eastern Visayas region, now face a future without the security of their farms, employment opportunities, or long-term economic prospects. Rebuilding these communities could span a decade or more.

While the response of the international community to the immediate emergency has been generous, post-disaster recovery requires long term engagement. Recovery is about more than the vital task of building homes and structures. It is also about building greater resilience to natural hazards.

The Philippines, battered by an average of 20 large-scale storms a year, is no exception. Investments in preparedness for these events and adaptation to ongoing risks are vital. Improved infrastructure design, for example, can help save lives and protect development gains.

Looking ahead, disaster risk reduction must be central to all future development that takes place in the Philippines. For example, as new schools are built, they need to be earthquake and climate-proofed. When the authorities support farmers to access new crop varieties, those crops should be more climate resilient, including by having a shorter harvest cycle after replanting.

In some places affected by Typhoon Haiyan, critical government infrastructure was damaged. This has affected the delivery of government services, such as education and healthcare and exacerbated the deprivation caused by the storm. UNDP is working to help the government address this and other issues which affect the pace of recovery.

It is important to always be mindful that the needs of those who have been affected by the profound crisis of Haiyan must be at the front and centre of the response and recovery. Many of the survivors were also first responders. They displayed both enormous courage and solidarity with those who had lost loved ones. They helped family, friends, and neighbours before humanitarian aid arrived, and they continue to provide support to this day.

 Even in the midst of great loss, the people of the Philippines are seizing the opportunity to build a better life in any way they can. I saw this resilience for myself on my visit to the devastated areas of Tacloban in recent weeks. We can all support their dream of a better future if we stay engaged with the long road to recovery.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.