The Philippines: Tearing down to rebuild

Six months on from devastating Typhoon Haiyan, UNDP is beginning a process that will see new schools rise from the rubble.


Barangay 64. Photo: Anna Mae Lamentillo and Lesley Wright, UNDP Philippines

Many kids dream of seeing their school bulldozed, so it is no surprise that squeals of children’s delight rise above Sulangan Elementary School as an excavator tears down its dilapidated roof. What probably took weeks to go up comes down in mere minutes in an orchestrated safe demolition.

Highlights

  • UNDP has helped clear over 500,000 cubic metres of debris in Tacloban alone, enabling the recovery of 15 hospitals, 744 schools, 620 daycare centers, 622 municipal buildings, and 1,746 kilometers of roads, along with drains and 600 pieces of other critical infrastructure (clinics, bridges, churches and gymnasiums)
  • More than 42,000 people have been given temporary jobs in UNDP’s early recovery programme – almost 35 percent are women
  • Funding from UNICEF and The Government of Japan
  • UNDP’s whole Haiyan programme will cost US$18.7 million, with other contributions from the governments of Australia, Ecuador, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the Philippines, as well as the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA)

But from chaos comes order and this controlled destruction is part of a UNDP-supported scheme to help rebuild classrooms destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit Eastern Samar in the Philippines with full force in November 2013.

For six months, pupils have been attending school in tents in the courtyard, meaning they are outside the danger zone, but even still, the children feel unsafe.

“When our kids were studying in the tents and then the wind would pick up, our kids would get scared and run home,” said Maria Carmen Layola.
The mother of a nine-year old student says children are still traumatized from the typhoon and every time the rain falls and winds blow, it’s a reminder of Haiyan.

Sulangan Elementary is one of thousands of schools and official buildings battered by Haiyan. In Sulangan, three classrooms and an outdoor performance area were badly damaged.

Nevertheless, the school helped protect people when the storm struck, serving as an evacuation site for dozens of families. With families inside, strong winds and heavy rains tore the metal roof apart and reduced some of the classroom walls to rubble.

But now, with UNDP help, the process of rebuilding the school has started, and the first step is demolition of the ruins. When demolition is completed, rebuilding will take place with help from the GMA Foundation, the charity of the national broadcaster GMA Network.

“They are hazardous for the children and that’s why we requested UNDP help us demolish these buildings,” said Santiago Arbiaso, 29-year veteran teacher at the school.

Janinie Custodio is a student teacher at the school and lost her grandfather in the disaster. She says that she and her grandfather, along with other families, huddled together to wait for the storm to pass. She witnessed the building’s demise. When one wall collapsed, trapping people underneath, they ran to another building that held up.

“Our lives were always 50/50,” she said. “My grandfather died. He was hit by a roof here. He was bleeding. There was no rescue. We just accept it.”
It is memories like this that make recovering from Haiyan tough for those at the school.

In its typhoon response, UNDP has assisted with the training of a refuse management team in hazardous waste removal and the finer points of cleaning up the mess, which includes demolition. They, along with partners such as local government, and the Korean and Philippines military are helping to systematically demolish structurally unsound buildings.

One such structure is the gymnasium in Tacloban’s Barangay 64, where Haiyan’s strong winds ripped off the roof and warped the girders like twist-ties. It now poses a significant risk to the surrounding houses and Korean troops are working hard with the UNDP supported team, helping to mitigate the danger. Kids play outside the wreckage of the building.

Thorsten Kallnischkies, a waste management engineer working with UNDP in its Haiyan programme, has seen the range of destruction caused by the typhoon and says that dangerous metal poses a significant risk to the community and urgent action is required.

“We know how to do it and we’ve got the means,” he said. “If these buildings collapse, they may actually hurt people. It needs highly skilled operators of heavy equipment that the Korean Army has, as well as people who are technically skilled to coordinate the operation.”

It is a challenging situation for UNDP’s engineers, but one that they welcome.