A reconstruction boom in the Philippines

Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius
Mirva Helenius

Guadalupe village in the Philippines is alive with the pounding of hammers and the buzz of saws. Here, in the northern reaches of Panay Island, new houses are being built, with the support of the Finnish Red Cross, to replace those destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan.

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The fierce typhoon that swept across the Philippines in November blew lightweight bamboo houses over and toppled countless coconut trees, destroying the livelihoods of many families. Sancho Cerezo and his family can still manage to live in their home, which has been patched up with tarpaulins and plywood. There is still no electricity – candles are the only source of light in the evenings.

"I am a qualified electrician. If I had the money, I would buy the electrical wires myself and fix everything, since the municipality appears to be doing nothing", says Cerezo, who works in the fields.

The Red Cross gave Cerezo a cash donation of 10,000 local pesos (180 euros), which he used to buy building supplies for his new house; the old one is beyond repair. Four men, working in exchange for food, are helping him with the construction work. One of them is his nephew Jupiter Sarsa, whose newly built house was completely demolished by the storm.

Red Cross donation helps to buy seeds

In addition to his house, Sarsa also lost most of what constitutes his livelihood: coconut trees, corn and abaca bushes used to make the famous manila rope. He now earns a living by selling the fruit he grows in his back garden: papaya, banana and pineapple. But this is a struggle for Sarsa in particular, given that he shares his earnings with his parents and brothers – a combined household of 11 people. They also receive the same 10,000 pesos as Cerezo from the Red Cross, but as livelihood support.

"We plan to use this money to buy corn, abaca and coconut seeds, as well as fertilisers and farming tools", Sarsa explains.

Until the plants begin producing crops, Jupiter intends to work as a carpenter at his uncle's construction site and for the municipality, if any jobs are available.

"I want to start saving for a new house so that my wife and I can soon build a new", stronger home.

The strength of the typhoon surprised the residents of Panay Island. People are used to storms, rains and floods, but the worst storms have previously been confined to the northern parts of the Philippines. Now, the residents fear that a superstorm such as Haiyan could strike again.

Storm-resistant houses

Guadalupe's neighbouring village of Casit-an, on the other side of the Aklan River, can only be accessed on a bamboo raft. The water is just deep enough to prevent access by car or foot. In Casit-an, a Philippine Red Cross team is providing villagers with information on storm-resistant building techniques. Darrel Rompe, a local engineer, has been hired to provide expert assistance.

"When building a new house, special attention should be paid to the house's location, the quality of the timber used, and the building technique. Any risks should be minimised", Rompe explains to the villagers.

After the briefing session, Red Cross volunteers and Rompe tour the area, offering advice and instructions. A helpline offering villagers advice on construction-related issues has also been opened. There is an enormous need for financial assistance with repairs and construction.

"We use certain criteria when providing support for the most vulnerable individuals. In Aklan province, 1,600 families are in receipt of support for reconstruction and 1,300 are receiving livelihood support", explains aid worker Johanna Klinge, who is responsible for coordinating Finnish Red Cross aid and assistance in the Philippines. 

It has been six months since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, but a new rain and typhoon season will begin in June. People are in a hurry to complete their construction and repair work.