View Full Version : Devastated Philippine City Faces Agonizing Wait

24th May 2014, 13:59
[I]a store in a coastal area of Tacloban that residents have renamed 'Yolanda Village'[/IMG]

Tacloban’s mayor and his team took just 45 days to come up with a plan to rebuild the central Philippine city torn apart by November’s supertyphoon.

But transforming this devastated landscape into the vibrant, calamity-resistant regional hub that Mayor Alfred Romualdez envisions could take up to 10 years—given the scale of the destruction, City Hall’s stretched finances and tensions with the central government on which Tacloban relies for aid.

A decade of rebuilding would likely test the patience of the thousands of residents uprooted by Typhoon Haiyan, whose fate now lies in the hands of the myriad of local and international partners recruited to take part in the lavish reconstruction project.

Mayor Romualdez dreams of a modern, prosperous city capable of withstanding any catastrophe that may visit the disaster-prone region. The vision is rooted in the “building back better” mantra coined by aid workers and government officials managing the area’s recovery.

On the drawing board is a 10,000-house residential district to be named North Tacloban. Along the vulnerable waterfront, sturdy commercial properties would replace the homes smashed by the storm. Highways would be widened to boost the city’s role as a national transit hub. A causeway would improve access to the airport and act as buffer against storm surges.

The mayor’s team has been working overtime on the aesthetics, too, with plans to introduce little flourishes like mangroves and walkways to help prettify the shoreline.

Tacloban’s struggling residents, many still living in tents and temporary bunkhouses, have no gripe with city officials for their ambition. But the needs of many are more urgent, and they are anxious that the mayor’s grand vision will take too long to materialize.

“The city was devastated—we do understand that,” said Maria Rosario Bactol, whose seafront neighborhood was upended by the storm surge unleashed by the typhoon. “But it’s been six months. We’re expecting help.”

Ms. Bactol said the 2,200 people who live in her shantytown, still strewn with wreckage and beached cargo ships, aren’t expecting authorities to work miracles. They just need assurances that the homes and jobs they need so desperately are coming sooner rather than later. Some resident have been told they may have to wait until next year for houses of their own.

According to the mayor, there can be no quick fix. “This will be a program for the city for the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Romualdez said. Drafting the plan in less than two months was an extraordinary achievement, he said, but the rollout can’t be rushed.

Still, Mr. Romualdez said Tacloban’s residents would see major improvements in coming months as the economy kicks into gear and the building of more than 30,000 new homes come closer.

Virtually all of the many businesses destroyed by the typhoon would be back in operation by the end of the year, Mr. Romualdez said, adding that the newly christened North Tacloban would get its first 1,200 houses by then, weather permitting. Under new rules to speed up reconstruction, Tacloban’s government has the power to force people to sell land seen as not being put to good use.

The scale of the project means the cash-strapped city is dependent on aid from the central government in Manila, as well as from an array of nongovernment bodies and private-sector partners. The level of cooperation and coordination required will add layers of bureaucracy to the operation, which is also likely to hamper progress.

Mr. Romualdez presented his master plan—drawn up with help from the United Nations’ urban-planning division—to the central government earlier this month, asking Manila to foot much of the bill, estimated at 20.7 billion pesos (US$472 million), for items such as new roads and airport refurbishment.

The regional coordinator for U.N. Habitat, Maria Mias-Cea, said it was a good meeting and that Mayor Romualdez’s plan had been well received by Panfilo Lacson, the central-government official overseeing reconstruction. Mr. Lacson said in an interview that he would submit Tacloban’s proposal to Mr. Aquino soon, and that the president’s approval would guarantee speedy implementation.

The governments in Tacloban and Manila have already clashed several times since November’s calamity. Shortly after the disaster, Manila imposed a ban on the construction of buildings within 40 meters of the sea, a directive that Tacloban’s mayor scrapped as impractical.

The mayor also pushed back against Manila’s idea of relocating the airport, arguing that it would be cheaper to fortify the existing one to withstand future storms.

However, Ms. Mias-Cea said she expects Mr. Lacson to confirm Manila will back the master plan by the end of May, for fear of compounding last year’s natural storm with a new and avoidable political one

Source (http://stream.wsj.com/story/latest-headlines/SS-2-63399/SS-2-539777/)