First Person

Dispatch from the Philippines: Rebuilding progress

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Much work remains, but, with your support, life is slowly returning to normal.

After Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, tens of thousands of you donated to Oxfam to help people rebuild and recover. Below, Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser reports on a recent visit to the Philippines and the progress of the recovery effort.

As my plane descended into Tacloban airport, I was beginning to get a sense of the impact of the typhoon on the landscape and city. Blue plastic tarps and white tents dot the landscape. Coconut trees are tall sticks with no fronds, or worse, they are simply split in half.

Once on the ground, I saw missing portions of a seawall and a shell of an airport terminal. One vehicle had come to rest on the top of a two story building.

On the move, the images intensify. I see a large, three-story shopping mall gutted by the force of water and its roof collapsed by high winds. There are half a dozen, hundred-foot-long ships up on shore in the middle of an urban neighborhood. Torn sheet metal from roofs and uncollected debris is piled high on every street.

But then I start noticing something else.

Roads have been cleared across the islands so transport is again running smoothly. Goods are arriving by ferry from Cebu and can be easily moved across Leyte and Samar.

Oxfam has used these roads to reach more than 550,000 people with relief, including cash support, shelter materials, water purification kits, sanitation services, hygiene kits and education, rice seed, and kits for pregnant women. We also provided equipment and funds to help communities clear debris.

Shops and services are slowly cleaning up and reopening. Banks are open for business even if in some cases they are operating out of mobile units brought in from other provinces. Children have returned to school, some doubled up in cramped classrooms because their assigned schools were destroyed.

Oxfam and various UN agencies moved swiftly in December to distribute rice seed to thousands of farmers across three provinces. By providing seeds, we’re ensuring a future crop.

Today, emerald green rice seedlings are shimmering in paddies across the region. Markets are now open and filled with fresh produce, but restoring people’s ability to earn a living from agriculture remains a challenge.

New cement poles that are more resistant to high winds have been installed everywhere, and wires have been restrung. The government has sent electrical workers from provinces all over the Philippines to Leyte to restore power. The Minister of Energy committed to getting all power restored by Christmas or he would resign. He is meeting his commitment and 95 percent of power is up and running. (Learn more about what the Filipino government can do to drive the recovery.)

Local authorities and non-governmental organizations, including Oxfam, were able to restore water to 80 percent of Tacloban’s residents within a week of the typhoon. But now with power, water pumps began working again, providing water to most of the towns of Tacloban and Palo. International organizations have worked hard to ensure that wells and pumps in rural towns and villages are safe and decontaminated, but there are communities across the region still at risk of disease from compromised water and sanitation systems.

You can see it. Even with so much more work to do, life is slowly returning back toward normal.

And of course, your support is what makes our work possible. Thanks to all of you who contributed to this effort. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+