Typhoon Haiyan: Indigenous people seek to break cycle of displacement

News Stories, 4 February 2014

© UNHCR/J.Morden
UNHCR lanterns brighten up nights in the Badjao village, still without electricity.

ISABEL, the Philippines, February 4 (UNHCR) At 85, Jahina Lugasan does not know where home is. Her life has been marked by a series of displacement driven by conflict and natural disasters. And unless something is done, her grandchildren could inherit this unfortunate legacy.

Jahina and her husband are from the indigenous Badjao ethnic group in southern Philippines, where armed conflict has raged for decades. In 1987, they fled to seek a more peaceful life for their six children in Isabel town, western Leyte province. They built a new home in the seaside village of Marvel with the blessing of the landowner, a local politician.

Over the years they integrated into their new village and now speak the local language.

But disaster struck again on November 8 last year when Typhoon Haiyan sent a 17-foot storm surge sweeping through the coast. Jahina became homeless again. This time, even her grandchildren were set adrift.

"We hid in a nearby church so we were lucky to escape the typhoon's wrath. Our house and our possessions were not as lucky," she said.

After the typhoon, Jahina's family trooped back from the church, only to find their home lost forever. The landowner forbade them to return and rebuild in their former habitual residence, citing the government's new rule on "no-build zones." The rule forbids the construction of dwellings within 40 metres of the shoreline to ease the impact of future disasters.

In total, some 300 Badjao were turned out from the same land, grappling with repeated instances of forced displacement caused first by conflict and now by the typhoon. Weak and traumatized, Jahina helped other Badjao collect debris, coconut leaves and pieces of bamboo washed up by the devastating waves. Using these, they erected huts on stilts along the coastline.

"Do we want to live right above the water? No. But what choice do we have?" she said, expressing fear for the safety of her family when another typhoon comes.

For now, plastic sheeting provided by the UN refugee agency helps to keep the family dry and a solar lantern lights up their restless nights. To date, UNHCR has reached nearly half a million Typhoon Haiyan survivors with vital supplies that include 45,000 plastic sheets and 10,000 solar lanterns. UNHCR continues to assist the most vulnerable typhoon survivors, in particular indigenous peoples like the Badjao.

"What we want is our own land in Isabel to build our homes on. It does not matter if we are poor, as long as we have a permanent home that is safe from future typhoons, we are happy," said Jahina, one of the first Badjao to settle in the town.

Fishing is the chief source of livelihood among the Badjao, who have appealed to local authorities to allocate land safe from the effects of severe storms but not far from coastal areas.

This indigenous community in Isabel is among the 4.1 million people displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. While more than 20 typhoons threaten the Philippines' over 7,000 islands each year, no national law exists to uphold the welfare of people displaced by typhoons, other natural disasters, as well as armed conflict, or often like with the Badjao of Isabel by a combination of these factors.

In February 2013, the UN refugee agency lauded the Philippine legislature for making strides in adopting a legislation espousing the right of internally displaced people (IDP) to protection and assistance. The legislation, the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region, was later vetoed.

Fresh efforts to revive the IDP bill restore hope in Jahina and other displaced people that their rights will be respected. If passed, the bill will entitle IDPs to protection and assistance during displacement, and will guarantee their safe return, resettlement and integration.

In Isabel, Jahina gazes at her two-month-old granddaughter born just days before Typhoon Haiyan struck. She has high hopes for the little girl and believes that someday finally the Lugasan family will find a place to call home.

By Johanna Morden in Isabel, the Philippines

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UNHCR country pages

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

An estimated 13 million people were affected when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8. Thousands were killed and about 3 million are believed to be displaced - some of them living in evacuation sites, others on the ruins of their former homes. Tacloban City in Leyte province was one of the hardest-hit areas. A week after the typhoon made landfall, large parts of its coast remain flattened and piles of debris still line the streets. Working with the Philippines government and UN and NGO partners, UNHCR is airlifting emergency supplies for thousands of survivors. The agency is delivering tents, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and other critical aid. It is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government, working to identify vulnerable people and ensuring that they have access to basic assistance and services. UNHCR has appealed for US$15 million to meet these critical needs. UNHCR is now present in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte province, as well as Guiuan in Eastern Samar province.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan carved its deadly and destructive path through the central Philippines and forcibly displaced 4 million Filipinos, the area is like a big construction site as people get on with rebuilding their flattened homes as well as their lives. Many have moved into renovated homes while thousands of those who fled to cities like Cebu and Manila have returned home. But large numbers still live in tents or former evacuation centres; full recovery is still some way off and many people need help. UNHCR is working with the government and other partners to address the challenges and find solutions for the displaced. The refugee agency has provided assistance to more than 600,000 people, distributing shelter materials and household items, including solar-powered lanterns in areas where there is still no electricity. UNHCR is also supporting a government-led mobile civil registration project to give 100,000 people continued access to social welfare, education and employment. Photographer Jeoffrey Maitem marked the six-month milestone by visiting communities recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: Leaving the Darkness Play video

Philippines: Leaving the Darkness

When typhoon Haiyan swept Tacloban City, it took with it what people need the most to see their way through any hard time: light. UNHCR has provided people of the Philippines with relief items that are helping make a difference. Relief items such as solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area.