Philippines: A Time to Mourn, a Time to Rebuild

It's been one year since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. Thousands perished as high winds and massive rains leveled Leyte, Samar provinces and other areas. Food and water shortages quickly followed after the storm hit.

Four million people had lost their homes in an instant. In the city of Tacloban 90 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The numbers tell of the scope of destruction. They do not tell of the personal loss many families feel. A service this weekend was held at a mass grave site in Tacloban to mourn those who passed in the storm. Elizabeth Tromans of Catholic Relief Services attended the mass. People placed flowers and white doves were released. The priests of Tacloban and the Archbishop of Palo led the prayers.

Tromans overheard a city official say the mourning process could now begin for families. There has not been really any time to mourn because so much work had to be done to clear the rubble.

Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) was one of the largest disasters in history. The people of the Philippines have made significant progress recovering in just a short amount of time.


How were they able to do this? Help from the international community poured in after the disaster.

The UN World Food Programme and UNICEF rushed emergency food aid and water to the displaced. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was one of the charities that came to the rescue with emergency shelters and supplies.

CRS has done this before in the Philippines. In fact, this was one of the first countries they assisted when the agency got its start during World War II.

This aid, fueled by donations from overseas, supported a very determined population that was ready to do the heavy lifting of reconstruction. Tromans explains,

After seeing the devastation, many including myself wondered how people could rebuild when they had lost everything. Where do you even begin? Not only have people come back to rebuild, but they have strengthened their bonds with their neighbors. Neighbors will share building materials, share their labor, and share their food to help other families during times of need.

While there has been a dramatic turnaround in the Philippines, the recovery is far from over. Farmers lost their lands during the storm. This critical sector of the economy has not recovered. Around half a million people still live in makeshift shelters.

Hunger is still a crisis facing the Philippines. With agriculture sustaining heavy losses this will continue to be a threat to the population.

CRS is planning a 3-5 year reconstruction effort focusing on shelter, living supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene, debris clearing and income recovery. They have provided seeds to help farmers start growing again.

The journey to recovery still has miles to go in the Philippines. International aid is still needed.

Whether or not reconstruction is ultimately successful can only be determined by the people of the Philippines. Tromans says that characteristic we can definitely count on. The community spirit ("bayanihan") is what will make the Philippines a stronger nation in the midst of tragedy.