Two years after, Bopha survivors still wait for a place to call home

It has been two years since Typhoon Pablo, but all Plutarco has been able to build since his family moved is a makeshift house from scraps and tattered plastic sheets.

COMPOSTELA, Philippines – The mismatched collection of canvas tents and makeshift houses tucked away in a remote village are still home to a hundred typhoon Bopha survivors, who continue to endure difficult living conditions in what is called the ‘tent city’. It is a place Plutarco Sahulan refuses to call home.

It has now been two years since typhoon Bopha (locally known as Pablo) struck this town, but all Plutarco has been able to build since his family moved is a makeshift house made from scraps and tattered plastic sheets.

The 50-year-old cycle rickshaw driver, Plutarco does not want to spend another summer in the tent city. He worries about the condition of those families still forced to live in tents, designated as emergency shelters which have now turned brittle, sprung leaks and covered in soot.

“It’s like an oven inside the tent. The heat is unbearable and it’s only a matter of time until everyone here catches that poisonous (sic) heat and dies,” said Plutarco.

Not far from the tents and makeshift houses are government-established bunkhouses or transitional shelters that currently house 85 families. Some call them the luckier ones, selected through the odds of lottery.

In a family of five, Plutarco felt disheartened with the selection of beneficiaries of the bunkhouses. He said that they were not properly consulted and that it was not done objectively where the vulnerable displaced families just like him should have been prioritized.

In contrast to the tent’s lack of privacy and security, the bunkhouse occupants enjoy the benefits of having hardwood for their doors and walls. The individual units are connected to electricity which offers much-needed light during the dark hours. These transitional shelters are close to what families normally would have in a proper house, but not quite enough. The lack of ventilation indoors has caused heat-related illnesses, with elderly villagers experiencing heat stroke and exhaustion.

In a recent interview with the provincial social welfare officer in charge of rehabilitation, the national government announced that permanent housing units built through the National Housing Authority were now in their completion stage and that the relocation exercises would begin in early March this year.

Days before the authorities announced the construction of permanent houses, families from the tent city and bunkhouses went on a go-and-see visit to the site. Upon arriving at the site, however, families were appalled to see that the structures seemed unstable, “we have escaped the typhoon but we may not be able to survive a house that may crumble while we’re asleep,” said Plutarco. As of this reporting, additional structural changes to the permanent houses are being implemented.

However, news that the local authorities of Compostela requiring families of civil documents to officially transfer land titles have dampened the spirits of the IDPs waiting for a house.

Plutarco and his wife had no civil documents even before the typhoon. “It has been two years now and we may never really get the house we were promised with or it may take another year or two. We really don’t know,” said Plutarco.

The need for resilient and decent shelters means more work is needed to attain the desired durable solutions for the estimated 140,000 persons who remain displaced in the provinces of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, and some parts of Caraga region. In addition to the construction of permanent shelters, the issues of legal documentation, sustainable livelihood, and basic needs need to be addressed before Plutarco can live in safety and dignity.

“A decent home with light, a proper roof and walls would give us peace of mind,” said Plutarco.