Typhoon Haiyan: Building Safer Shelter From the Storm


There’s a loud crackling sound to rain when it hits a tarp, especially during a heavy tropical storm. You look up and wonder if the downpour is going to break through and unleash a torrent. You wonder if a gust of wind might just blow the tarpaulin away.

At least, those were my thoughts as I sought shelter from the rain in a small makeshift home of a woman in the community of Monterico, in the Leyte region of the Philippines.

I was here as part of a team with the humanitarian organization CARE to assess one of the areas where we will distribute shelter repair kits in response to the devastating typhoon that hit the region in early November.

A simple scan of Monterico underscores the need for shelter. Practically all of the homes are seriously damaged by “super typhoon” Haiyan, a storm with sustained winds estimated at more than 300 kilometres an hour. The only roof for most in this village is a tarp; helpful, but not a long-term solution.

CARE is working with partners to deliver emergency relief in three islands of the Philippines heavily affected by the typhoon: Leyte, Samar and Panay. Our target is to reach 200,000 people with lifesaving food, shelter, other assistance, and help communities recover in the months and years to come. So far, we have provided food to 88,000 people and shelter materials (shelter kits, tarpaulins and kitchen sets) to more than 15,000 individuals.

About a two-hour drive from Monterico is the community of Cutay, near Tacloban City. This isolated collection of houses sits next to rice fields where many locals work. Hanging over the houses are dead coconut trees whose tops have been blown off from the heavy winds – another significant casualty of the storm, he loss of livelihoods from the coconut trees will leave a serious impact on the local economy.

Here, our team met a woman named Aileen Militante. The 37-year-old mother of five took us to visit the home her husband constructed with various pieces of debris he found after the storm destroyed their original house. 

It is shelter, but water leaks through the roof when it rains and Aileen is constantly worried about her children’s safety. However, the family does not have enough money to buy new housing materials.   

In Cutay, CARE and its partners recently distributed shelter repair kits to the most vulnerable households, including Aileen’s family. Containing corrugated sheets, specialized nails, wire and other useful repair items, these kits are meant to help people rebuild their homes to be stronger and sturdier. In addition, families receive an additional 3,000 pesos (roughly $70) to buy extra items they may need to rebuild.

Of course, this doesn’t mean simply dropping off the kits and hoping for the best. Our team is employing what we call a “build back safer” strategy meant to empower families to repair and rebuild their own homes stronger to face the next storm. Given this country’s history of typhoons, we know there will be more. 

In addition to distributing high-quality shelter repair kits, CARE’s long-term approach involves training local carpenters and community members on improved building techniques to make homes sturdier, holding information sessions about construction practices and having roving teams of local building experts available to coach and offer helpful advice. 

“If it is just up to us, it would take time to save enough money to buy housing materials, since we're still recovering from the disaster,” says Aileen. “Having a real house again for my young kids is my priority to keep them safe. It is very important for us to be able to move on.”

At the same time, her husband, a carpenter, will take lessons learned from CARE’s information sessions to help other people in his community build back safer.

Unfortunately, recovery in the Philippines will be a long-term process. Government estimates suggest 1.14 million houses have been damaged, with more than 550,000 completely destroyed.

With such widespread devastation – it’s hard to fully comprehend until you actually see house after house leveled to the ground – helping communities recover will take some time.

For families in Cutay and Monterico, the new shelter materials and follow-up support will not only help people escape the rain, they will serve as an important step in recovering from one of the strongest typhoons in history.

Written by Darcy Knoll, emergency communications coordinator for CARE International in the Philippines.

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