Eva Postre, 56, and her husband Eusebio Postre, 60, sit on the steps of their temporary home in the bunkhouse community in Tacloban. Postre says that the shop that she runs out of the front of her house is proof that she and her family are working hard to be self-sufficient.
This is the second of four “Humans of Climate Change” stories from Tacloban, the Philippines. Tacloban was one of the cities hardest hit by the 2013 supertyphoon dubbed “Haiyan” internationally and “Yolanda” in the Philippines. For an overview of the storm’s impacts in the region and the influence of climate change in increasing the severity of tropical storm impacts, visit the series introduction here. Other stories: Imelda Rona
I spoke with Eva Postre on a warm day in February, outside her family’s bunkhouse. She began her story with two sentences. “Typhoon Yolanda was very dangerous,” she said. “This was the beginning of my suffering.”
“Before the storm, we had a better life. We lived in a coastal community, we fished, did laundry, we had a tricycle*” [*a common mode of transport, especially used as an informal taxi]
“The storm came on Friday, and we evacuated as early as [the] Wednesday [before] to the Tacloban Convention Center. My sons stayed, because there would be no one left to protect our things in the aftermath.
“Even before the storm hit, I was thinking it was really something big…it was very tall and black. We were lucky that the Astrodome [Convention Center] was sturdy, and we survived.
After, “there were lots of dead in the streets. We didn’t have anything to eat for 3 days, and by Monday we were desperate for food. We looted the Coca-Cola plant, and prepared noodles with that because there was no clean water.
Her sons they found later. One had a large wound on his back, and he was sent to Manila in the evacuation and has since recovered. The other, Joven, died in the storm.
“From this experience I was able to prove there is a God, that we were able to survive without food, without water, with only the clothes we had on. But every time I see the Astrodome it brings back bad memories. I rarely go back to my old community, because we had something good that became terrible.
After four months in the Astrodome, the Postre family moved into temporary, government-built bunkhouses. Government officials promised at the time that they would be there no longer than 6 months.
But delays have pushed back the timeline. According to the Tacloban City Housing and Community Development Office, the National Housing Authority (NHA) plans to build over 13,000 permanent houses in the region as part of their Haiyan relief efforts. But as of February 23, 2016, only about 10% had been “substantially” completed, and only 352 families had moved into their new homes.
The National Housing Authority could not be reached for comment, but the Tacloban city government stated in an email that the area where the bulk of the NHA developments are located currently lacks a sustainable water distribution system, and that this factor is preventing many of the completed homes from being occupied. They say they are “working toward a deal” to build and maintain the infrastructure recommended by a USAID study completed in mid-2015.
When I spoke to the Postre family in February, they had been living in their bunkhouse not for six months, but for nearly two years.
The bunkhouse community was never meant to last this long. It has a central water supply, but the houses themselves provide little comfort. Sanitation is poor, and the cheaply constructed structures provide little shelter from the region’s storms.
And while they work to rebuild their lives, Postre says the bunkhouse puts hard limits on their ability to do so. She runs a shop out of the front of her bunkhouse, started with a 1,000 peso (21 USD) investment from her daughter, who works in Manila. “The store is proof that we’re trying our best to be self-sufficient. We set aside capital from our daily earnings and use the rest to buy rice and necessities for all six of us.”
“We can’t have business outside right now because we can’t leave the house permanently—if we did then we would be ineligible for permanent housing—and we can’t leave to work for the day because there are many thieves and no way to protect the houses.
“Our neighbor,” she says, pointing to the end of the row of houses, “had 6,000 pesos (130 USD) in savings, and thieves stole it in broad daylight.” Drug addiction—mostly methamphetamine—is widespread in many of the Philippines’ poorer communities, and has spread through bunkhouse communities in the wake of the storm.
And without the extra income that outside work could provide, Postre says, they can’t afford to leave the community and strike out on their own. With children still in school, it would be too great a risk.
The family has worked back from the brink, largely on their own, and the shop now provides a stable income. But the slow progress of government housing projects has turned government assistance into poverty trap. “We’re able to get most of what we want from the store. But it’s hard, and it’s frustrating to wait. If we had more money, I would want my daughter to come back and work here.”
[Translation provided by Dean Lacandazo and Marissa Cabaljao of People Surge, the Alliance of Disaster Survivors in Eastern Visayas]