John Andrew Lajara, 50, stands outside his home (left) on the Tacloban waterfront. In the far background, the arm of a backhoe can be seen as it works on the construction of a new tidal embankment.
This is the third 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, Eva Postre
“There were lots of plans after the storm. People came, a reporter came to talk to me before, when I was searching for my brother.”
“I had a two-story house before the storm, with 9 boarders. My brother died in Yolanda. Right there.” Lajara points to the yard behind him. “My mother died here too, but not during the storm.”
More than two years after the storm, Lajara’s home stands half-built. He indicates where the two-storied side of the building used to stand, housing boarders and providing a steady stream of income. He says he feels a strong connection to the area and doesn’t want to leave, but fears that any work he does to will be undone again.
“You know the reason it’s called Tacloban? The first people who settled in this region settled right here on the edge of the ocean. Taclob were the nets they used to fish. When [visitors] would ask where they were going, they would say ‘To Tacloban.’ That’s the verb for setting out the nets.”
“My forefathers lived here. My family died here, or went away. My home has been destroyed 3 times and I’ve rebuilt. Now they want to destroy it again.”
As part of President Benigno Aquino’s “build back better” approach to the nation’s recovery, the government has begun construction on a 26.9 km-long tidal embankment aimed at protecting Tacloban and residents of the surrounding area from future storms. But the same project would displace thousands, including Lajara, from the densely populated shoreline neighborhoods.
As of April, embankment construction has been placed on hold pending a study of alternative storm surge protection strategies. But many such strategies, including the rehabilitation of coastal mangrove ecosystems, would still require the permanent resettlement of coastal communities. And the Tacloban city government said in an emailed statement that their long-term strategy remains the same, “to redirect residential development away from the coastal areas and toward safer zones.”
The government says that “makeshift dwellings in unsafe areas are demolished only after the occupants have already moved to better housing,” and that “families will not be inhumanely driven away from their homes.”
But the threat of homelessness is not Lajara’s only concern. Two years post-Yolanda, his livelihood is still unstable. He is college-educated, but he has gotten by the past few years running errands for neighbors. He hasn’t rebuilt the boarding house; he says that with his brother gone, it’s hard to find the motivation. When I visited in February, the embankment’s construction machinery was visible from his home.
With plans for the coastline area uncertain and with the National Housing Authority lagging behind in their construction of permanent housing for those displaced by the storm (and for those currently living in “unsafe” areas), it is even harder for Lajara to plan for his future.
“[Before Haiyan] I had hoped to marry. I still do, but before I thought a woman would come and see my situation…I think it would be great to have a wife, my own offspring.”
Given the choice, he says, he would stay. “I’m just collecting information, now. So that someday we can say: This is what happened.”