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Tacloban’s typhoon-hit businessmen urged to return

TACLOBAN, 4 December 2013 (IRIN) - Sitting inside the makeshift kiosk she built from iron sheeting, tarpaulin and pieces of wood, typhoon survivor Jennifer Bernal personifies economic resilience as a lamp casts a glow across her face and the simple household goods she sells in Tacloban in the wake of the category 5 storm that devastated large parts of the city.

The kiosk she had was washed away when the typhoon struck on 8 November. “My husband wasn’t earning anything. I knew I had to something,” said the 31-year mother of two. “I can’t expect my children to rely just on relief assistance.”

Her attitude shows the growing resilience of this city of 250,000 people, Leyte province’s largest urban centre and once one of the fastest growing hubs in the Philippines. The economy is largely based on the region’s fishing, commerce and agriculture sectors. Copra, or dried coconut, is Leyte's most important export product and more than 30 percent of the cultivatable land is planted with coconut palms.

While the road to recovery remains long, with each passing day people seem more determined than ever to rebuild. Over the past few weeks, the population has swelled as survivors from surrounding communities arrived in the city in search of work and better access to assistance. The government has put in place a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am in Tacloban to ensure the safety of inhabitants.

According to the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development, over 14 million people were affected by Typhoon Haiyan, including more than 4 million displaced across nine provinces.

Over 96,000 people are still in more than 400 evacuation centres, the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said on 4 December.

The islands of Leyte and Samar were hardest hit, the Multi-Cluster/Sector Rapid Assessment (MIRA), a cooperative effort involving more than 40 agencies across nine provinces, reported.


Despite these challenges, residents in Tacloban are determined to recover, which is reflected in the ongoing clean-up efforts across the city, and the opening of growing numbers of micro-businesses such as Jennifer’s.

Although electricity is still not available, much of the city’s water system has been restored, and many small businesses, including hotels and restaurants, are keen to reopen their doors, even if they have to rely on generators to operate.

“Just thinking about what happened isn’t going help. We need to get moving,” said Joseph Bonavitacola, 57, an Italian living in Tacloban and one of the first local businessmen to reopen his doors. With his Filipino wife, Katherine, he has owned and operated an upscale restaurant downtown for over a decade.

In 1992, his village in Campania, southern Italy, was levelled by an earthquake that killed upwards of 8,000 people. “We bounced back. The people of Tacloban will bounce back as well,” he said.

A call to businessmen

But if Tacloban’s economy is really to bounce back, more local businessman must follow his example, a move now being encouraged by city officials. “I urge all local businessmen to return,” Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez told IRIN. “Getting the local economy back and running is key.”

The demand for goods and services, which are critical for the city’s economic recovery, was there, he said, but said there were problems with obtaining sufficient supplies.

“We need to get started,” Romualdez said, a call echoed by other business leaders. Jackson Go, president of Tacloban’s Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said, "It may take three to five years to rehabilitate the city, but hopefully as soon as possible."

Reconstruction Fund

On 26 November, the Philippine Congress set up a reconstruction fund of 100 billion pesos (US$2.28 billion) for the badly affected Visayas region, but many believe the real need will be much higher.

Early estimates by analysts of the typhoon's cost to the Philippines put the figure as high as $14 billion. There are as yet no official figures for the economic toll on Tacloban.

Romualdez said cash donations from foreign donors may help fill the gaps in rehabilitation efforts, but conceded that the authorities face an immense financial challenge.

To entice local businessmen to return, authorities may assist local businesses to defer payments on outstanding loans or even offer a moratorium of one year, given the size of their losses.

He repeated the government’s pledge to reconnect electricity in the city by Christmas. "This is just a temporary set-back," the mayor said. "We will soon get back to our feet. This is not first time this has happened to us and we have moved forward. We just have to bury ourselves in our work."

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 3 December, Typhoon Haiyan affected 5.6 million workers (including 2.2 million women), when their livelihoods and sources of income were destroyed, lost or disrupted.


Theme (s): Economy, Natural Disasters, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


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