11/07/2015, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Two years after Yolanda, Filipino bishops offer faith, hope and caritas for the homeless

The Bishops' Conference and Caritas organise a meeting to mark the second anniversary since the typhoon struck. For the auxiliary bishop of Cebu, people “continue to have hope in spite of those dire situations because for one, they have not yet have felt abandoned." But two years after the storm, a million people are yet permanently housed. For the government, the emergency should be over in 2017.

Cebu City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “People who have not lost sense of humour have not lost hope. To be able to laugh at one’s situation is a sure sign of hope. They continue to have hope in spite of those dire situations because for one, they have not yet felt abandoned,” said Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Dennis Villarojo during his welcome address at the Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) Summit currently underway in Cebu City.

The occasion for the meeting is the second anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda, which hit country on 8 November 2013. Some 14 million people were affected, with more than 7,000 killed. Two years later, a million people are still homeless. Themed ‘Faith, Hope, and Caritas,’ the Summit has drawn participants from around the world, including Italy.

Mgr Villarojo noted the compassion of ordinary folk. When the typhoon hit, young people “simply gathered their resources, got provisions from their kitchens, gathered into sacks, placed them into their vehicles and off they went up north” to help their fellow Filipinos.

However, “Disaster do not always bring out the best in people. Sometimes they bring out the worst . . . . Sometimes they begin to loot department stores, houses and others.”

This said, Bishop Villarojo is quick to note that despite this, goodness naturally resides in people’s hearts. “They (disasters) bring out the best” in some people “when there was already something good in them”.

Yolanda was the world’s most devastating typhoon on record, destroying 90 per cent of the coastal city of Tacloban. Since then, shops and restaurants have reopened and community life has been revived.

The same cannot be said for the city’s suburbs and for other areas. Here hundreds of thousands of people are still living in abject poverty, still exposed to annual Pacific storms. Many people shelter in huts made of mud and brick, built on the ruins of houses swept away by winds that reached 300 km/h.

Filipino President Benigno Aquino’s government launched a 150 billion peso reconstruction programme for the disaster zone. About 60 per cent of that money has already been spent, much of it on roads, bridges and schools.

Housing the homeless remains the top priority. Out of 205,128 families affected, only 928 have been moved to permanent housing. The government is aiming to relocate nearly 100,000 families by next year with the project to be completed by 2017.

Despite this, back in August, the Bishops’ Conference criticised the government for its use of funds. According to the Church, some of the money has been allocated for next year’s election campaign rather than reconstruction.

For its part, the Filipino Church has already committed some US$ 12 million to recovery projects.

Pope Francis visited typhoon Yolanda survivors on 17 January this year.

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