Life after the storm: villagers in the southern Philippines picking up the pieces of their former lives

Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines in December 2021, with catastrophic consequences for the local population. Immediately after the disaster, the EU and partners provided shelter and emergency relief items to those affected.

Destroyed palm trees dot a beach on the typhoon-ravaged island of Dinagat. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Peter Biro)

More than 5 months after Super Typhoon Rai slammed into the Philippines, Elma Ravelo’s house is still in ruins.

“We had a nice living room and kitchen here,” she says as she walks in the mud-caked wreckage of smashed furniture, twisted bits of corrugated iron roofing and bricks. “If I save for two years, I might be able to rebuild it.”

On the island of Siargao, the ferocious storm first made landfall, blowing away buildings, damaging critical infrastructure and swelling rivers to overflow.

Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette, touched down 9 more times as it swept west through the Philippines, killing over 400 people, and forcing nearly half a million people to flee their homes.

Elma Ravelo in the ruins of her house. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Peter Biro)

As the storm approached, Ravelo and the other inhabitants in the small fishing hamlet of Santa Rita ran to the village’s strongest building, the local school.

“I was so afraid,” Ravelo says. “Palm trees snapped, water was rushing, and the winds blew everything away.”

Immediately after the disaster hit, the EU and its partners distributed drinking water, hygiene kits, tarpaulins to cover damaged houses, and other critical relief items to thousands of people in the worst affected areas.

Months after the disaster, however, the housing situation is still dire. The EU’s partner Oxfam has called on the government to prioritise rebuilding typhoon-damaged houses and properties.

Before the storm

Two men rebuilding a damaged home on Siargao island. Rai destroyed or damaged close to a million houses. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Peter Biro)

Located in a typhoon belt, the Philippines suffers some 20 storms a year — more than any other country in the world. And the intensification of global warming will lead to an increase in severe damages caused by these extreme weather events and other climate impacts, according to Arlynn Aquino, who oversees EU humanitarian programs in the Philippines.

“The delivery of humanitarian aid covers immediate needs,” she says. “But one of our main priorities are also to help people prepare for future disasters by creating early warning systems,​ strengthening houses, mobilising cash assistance before the expected disaster, practicing evacuation drills, and organising community microfinance groups and other preventative measures.”

Further west, on the island of Dinagat, a surfing destination on the northeastern tip of Mindanao Island, the damage is equally widespread with few buildings spared. The fishing village of Santa Rita’s coastline is ravaged by debris, garbage and crumbling buildings.

“Before the storm hit, we had already evacuated to the school building,” says Roselyn Salvador, a villager. “But the waves were so big that they still reached us. I was separated from my husband and children when we tried to flee into the hills.”

Devastating consequences

Once the storm died down, Roselyn was reunited with her traumatised family and walked down to the beach to survey the damage.

“All was gone,” she says, her eyes welling up. “My husband and I just cried. How do we go on? Even our fishing boat was lost, and we don’t have any source of income.”

Roselyn Salvador surveys her flattened house on the beach in the fishing village of Santa Rita. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Peter Biro)

Once the magnitude of the disaster became evident, Oxfam reported that people were begging for scraps of food in the regions ravaged by Rai. All told, an estimated 7 million people have lost their homes or main source of income.

The typhoon caused widespread flooding which affected more than 420,000 hectares of land and damaged or destroyed close to a million houses. Rai also felled an estimated 10 million trees in areas all over the Philippines — a major blow to coconut farmers in the country who are already among the country’s poorest.

Left: Fishing is a vital industry across the Philippines. Rai destroyed tens of thousands of boats, robbing entire communities of their livelihoods. Right: Children play among the destroyed coconut palms in a village on Siargao island. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Peter Biro)

“The people rely heavily on coconut production here,” Arlynn Aquino says. “And they have told us that it will take years for the trees to grow back. Overall, it will take a long time for these communities to get back to normal.”

Story by Peter Biro, Regional Information Officer for Asia and the Pacific, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

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