Two years after Typhoon Haiyan, the school rebuilding goes on


Children in a destroyed school building in the town of Hernani a week after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013

Two years ago today, Super Typhoon Haiyan barrelled into the Philippines, causing death, destruction and long-lasting misery for millions of people.

More than 7000 were killed as the record-speed winds caused tsunami-like storm surges that flattened entire communities.

Haiyan – known as Yolanda in the Philippines – saw 500,000 homes destroyed and four million people displaced.

As always in natural disasters, education was badly hit – with more than 2500 public schools damaged or destroyed, 12,400 classrooms needing repaired and 4400 having to be replaced. Thousands of students lost their school records.

More than 5000 temporary learning spaces were set up and school supplies were given to 500,000 students and teachers.

Those are the statistics. Behind them lay tragedy, grief and anguish for hundreds of thousands of families.

A makeshift classroom in Tacloban in June 2014

Two years on, the rebuilding of the schools, homes and businesses destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan is still going on. Significant progress has been made but almost one million survivors are still without safe homes.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF is concerned about the unment needs of children. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines, said: “The two-year anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan marks tremendous progress in recovery and rebuilding efforts.

“UNICEF commends the great efforts invested by the government, civil society and communities to help children and families get back on their feet.”

But she added: “Many families are still living in temporary housing away from their homes and livelihoods, in constant fear of another typhoon.”

Ms Sylwander said the Philippines needs a school improvement plan that embodies a culture of safety and preparedness.

Writer and entrepreneur Evelin Weber is Philippines Ambassador for A World at School and a major supporter of our #UpForSchool Petition, which demands that world leaders get every child into school.

A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors from the Philippines visit a school two years after Typhoon Haiyan

She said today: “It is more evident to me that returning to school provides the much-needed sense of normalcy for children post-Yolanda. For many, schools have become second homes for these kids. 

“As citizens of the Philippines, it is our obligation to create a safe and comfortable schooling environment for our kids. It is these same kids that will shape the future of our nation.”

The government devised a $3.2 billion plan to build more than 200,000 new homes by 2017 in devastated areas, along with building schools. But many have been critical of bureaucracy that has slowed progress.

A destroyed school at Tanuan in November 2014

The Manila Times said: “About 60% of that money have been spent, much of it on roads, bridges and schools, according to Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who is in charge of the recovery programme.”

Many NGOs have been involved in the rebuilding programme – including USAID, which rebuilt 250 classrooms and made them typhoon-resilient on the island of Leyte.

Another is Save The Children, which has helped to repair classrooms as part of its programmes reaching nearly 500,000 children. 

Director Ned Olney said: “Clearly, the job is not yet over. We knew from the start that this was going to be a long process of rehabilitation. The world has not seen this kind of damage from any typhoon in recent history.

Students back at the repaired San Fernando Central School in Tacloban in August 2014

“Our worry is that families may no longer be able to send their children to school and provide for their families once the assistance stops. Improving livelihoods is essential for long-term recovery.”

Natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan are one reason why there is a dire need for a platform and fund to aid education in emergencies.

As A World at School’s Bethany Ellis wrote in a blog this week: “With prolonged emergency situations, where many of these children are located receiving less funds, and the proportion of these funds going towards education miniscule, these children are in grave danger of being left behind.

The Syrian refugee crisis and the Nepal earthquake have helped to focus mind on this and, at the UN General Assembly in September, it was agreed a global process to lead to decisions on new ways of funding education in emergencies would be finalised before the end of the year.

The Philippines has 1.2 million children who are not getting an education – putting it among the 10 highest out-of-school populations. Activists including Evelin Weber backed the #UpForSchool Petition and also started the #AkoSiDaniel (I Am Daniel) campaign – named after Filipino boy Daniel Cabrera, who was photographed doing his homework in a street by the light from a McDonald’s restaurant.

Last month, the Philippines was hit by another typhoon – this one called Koppu internationally and Lando locally – which caused floods, landslides and power outages.

Many schools were closed in the immediate aftermath. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the typhoon destroyed 385 school classrooms iand damaged 1049 others.

The effects of Koppu were not as bad as feared but Save The Children says 700,000 were still affected. As if any reminder was needed of the devastating power of nature in this area of the world, six bodies from the 2013 typhoon were found yesterday in the grounds of San Jose National High School in Barangay.