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Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan: planned resettlement displaces farming communities

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the city of Tacloban in the Philippines on 8 November 2013. Resettlement sites built north of the city aided in recovery, but also displaced farmers that had been working on the lands for generations. Many are now experiencing dramatic changes to their land security, housing, and ability to pursue their livelihoods.

Farmland near a resettlement site in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

Date published
30 September 2019
A story from
Tacloban North

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck the Philippines on 8 November 2013. As one of the strongest and most destructive typhoons ever on record, it caused widespread damage and left more than 6000 people dead, approximately 1000 missing and over 28 000 injured. The city of Tacloban and the towns surrounding it, located in the country’s Eastern Visayas region, were among the hardest hit.

The Tacloban area is one of the country’s poorest regions – a place where farming and fishing, often on a small-scale, form the backbone of many people’s livelihoods. Although the impacts of Haiyan on Tacloban’s coastal areas have been well-researched, there has been little focus on victims living slightly further away in the largely agricultural lands just north of the city, in an area commonly referred to as Tacloban North.

View of Tacloban city in 2018. Photo: SEI

Many coastal communities lost their homes to the typhoon, and the government and other donors constructed resettlement sites to accommodate them, largely in Tacloban North. The site selection for resettlement housing was partly driven by the government’s decision to establish a no-build zone in coastal areas of central Tacloban, requiring them to acquire land out of the city. The resettlements were built alongside, or directly on, the land that farming communities had been living on for generations, in some cases leading to their eviction.

Farmer housing in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

A pedicab and shop in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

New concrete housing in one of the resettlement sites. Photo: SEI

SEI recently visited three different farming communities in Tacloban North to better understand the impacts that the resettlement sites have had on them. Many people in these communities have experienced dramatic changes to their land security, housing, and ability to pursue their livelihoods since the resettlement sites were built.

A farmer in front of the house she rebuilt after her displacement. Photo: SEI

A focus group discussion with displaced women from one community in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

Teresa, a farmer in North Tacloban, lived on the land where she grew rice and other crops for subsistence. Her house was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Though she was able to scavenge materials to rebuild it, soon after it was bulldozed to clear the land for the construction of the resettlement sites. Teresa and her family lost their home and livelihood, and must buy all their food from markets using the money they now earn from collecting trash at a nearby dumpsite.

Collected trash at a dumpsite in Tacloban North.  Photo: SEI

Teresa’s experience was echoed in the stories of several others in the area. Many farmers affected by the typhoon did not qualify for the improved concrete housing provided in the resettlement sites, forcing them to live in makeshift houses constructed of corrugated sheet metal and wood, often on marginal lands prone to flooding.

The house of a displaced farming family, made of makeshift materials. Photo: SEI

Housing for displaced farmers, built on flood-prone land near a resettlement site. Photo: SEI

“I was told the same day the bulldozers arrived. Within two days everything was bulldozed over”, said Miguel, a farmer in his mid-50s, about his eviction. The representative that informed him promised his family a new house, but, five years later, he still has not received any information on it. Stories of promises unkept are common.

A man displaced by the resettlement sites. Photo: SEI

Because land is scarce in the area, finding new land remains a problem for many people, and many of the farmers lack a clear understanding of land rights and tenancy regulations. They have been given no support on how to find alternative housing or livelihoods. Following their eviction, one group of farmers decided to rebuild their houses across the road on an empty plot of land. The owner of that land has now filed a case against them for illegally squatting and wants them evicted.

While many of the farmers lacked secure land rights prior to the typhoon, feelings of land insecurity have dramatically increased as they now experience what feels like an endless cycle of displacement. One woman first saw her house destroyed by the typhoon, and then rebuilt it only to see it demolished by the construction of the resettlement site. She is now being evicted for a third time as her new land is needed for a road widening construction project for the resettlement site. She has not received any form of compensation for the three displacements.

A group of farmers who lost their agricultural land. Photo: SEI

Drying laundry and agricultural field in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

Many farmers have been unsuccessful in their efforts to find new, secure housing, despite informing local officials that their houses were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, and again by the construction of the resettlement sites. Others feel that there is no point in further raising their concerns because they already know they will never receive any support. “I cried for help, but he just ignored me”, said one woman after a visit to a senior government official’s office in Tacloban.

Woman telling her story of losing her house to Typhoon Haiyan and then to a resettlement site. Photo: SEI

Boys playing at home in Tacloban North. Photo: SEI

Every displaced farmer that SEI spoke to said that it was the first time anyone approached them to hear their stories. Why have these groups of farmers been so invisible in the recovery and resettlement process?

People’s vulnerability to the impacts of the resettlement policy has been largely defined by geographical location. Decision making has prioritized people living in coastal areas and overlooked other factors contributing to vulnerability, including land rights. Land ownership in the Tacloban area is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy private landowners. Many smallholder farmers are unregistered on the land they work on, and the loss of their farming livelihoods appears to be disregarded in the recovery process. The farmers’ lack of land rights, coupled with their homes being located outside the designated resettlement areas, has left them with virtually no support. While the people in the selected coastal areas are of course in need of full support, government and NGO efforts must take into consideration the impacts of the resettlement process beyond these selected beneficiaries.

Farming community housing. Photo: SEI

At the same time, many of those relocated from the coastal areas also continue to struggle, and there has been debate in the Philippines over the resettlement process itself. SEI’s Transforming Development and Disaster Risk Initiative points to growing evidence that poor implementation of resettlement plans has led to insufficient support for livelihoods and a lack of basic services for those relocated to Tacloban North from the downtown coastal area.

Boats in downtown Tacloban. Photo: SEI

An important question to consider is: whose interests do the resettlement plans really serve? In its current state, the recovery process in Tacloban appears to create a largely lose-lose situation for both those who have lost their lands to the resettlement and, in many ways, those who have been relocated. The no-build zones have now been recategorized as no-dwelling zones, which allows commercial development in the area. Is the aim of the resettlements to actually protect vulnerable populations close to the sea from future disasters? Or do they represent a new form of land grab to clear coastal areas for future economic development, leading to new inequalities and vulnerabilities for informal settlers in both Tacloban City and Tacloban North?