Super Typhoon Rai was the strongest storm to hit the Philippines in 2021.
High windspeeds of 195kph caused widespread devastation. They destroyed more than half a million homes across the archipelago of islands.
As the storm made landfall, tens of thousands of people evacuated to stay in collective facilities or with friends and family.
“No, we didn’t know [Rai was coming]. We didn’t even leave our house right away. By around 7pm I did not think it was going to get worse because the wind kept subsiding. By 9pm it became worse, it was like my house was dancing in the wind.
“That’s when we evacuated to our neighbours house. We were running, it was so dark. We were very frightened, our house was already shaking. I thought we would die if we stayed there, we could have been crushed by the roof.”
A response led by the community
When the storm subsided, people returned to their homes to see what was left and assess the damage. People were quick to use what they could find to make temporary shelters.
They salvaged materials from the wreckage and made simple makeshift structures. Gnarled bits of corrugated iron were bent into shape and crudely fixed to frames constructed from the debris. People repurposed rice bags and signage boards to form walls and roofs.
“There was nothing left. All of the roofs were gone. We made a temporary shelter out of the salvaged materials that we were able to retrieve. It was very hard. It was hard when we were asleep and it suddenly rained, we all got very wet. We didn’t have any walls, it was all gone.”
Facing difficult decisions
After a disaster like a typhoon, people prioritize their needs. When people have basic shelter, they can look to find food and water, farming and work. And they can also start providing support to the rest of their community.
But with this prioritization comes sacrifice. Homes may not be big enough for the whole family, or leak because of the building materials. As people in the Philippines focused on reaching the next phase in their journey of recovery, it meant they had to make difficult decisions.
“My wife’s in Manila working. She’s working there to support us with our daily needs. It’s been a long time. My kind of factory work does not pay much. It was only good for our food consumption. It was hard because we can’t afford to rebuild our house.
“My wife can earn more in Manila. At first it was hard but in time I got used to it already. She has not come home ever since she left in January. We talk on the phone every week.”
The Filipino response to Covid-19 differed little from countries in North America and Europe, but without the social assistance that some countries had in place.
Successive lockdowns not only affected people’s freedom of movement, but also their ability to earn an income. This stretched household finances, and people were already using their savings when Typhoon Rai hit and destroyed thousands of homes.
“Ever since the pandemic there are not many buyers in the market and sales are not good. We were not allowed to go out and go to the market because we were senior citizens already. We let the driver of the truck bring our goods to the market and he will be the one to dispose and sell it. There are times that my crops won’t be paid right away. So we have to look for other ways to buy food and rice for the family. It was very hard for us because prices of commodities were very high and we do not have stable income.” – Antonia
“It’s harder now compared to before. I have my two children here… my husband is jobless. Sometimes he can fish then sometimes he has no catch. It’s harder now. He cannot go back to the city to work. Others would say that he is not vaccinated, that is why he cannot work.” – Violeta
The War in Ukraine
Three months after Typhoon Rai, people were still dealing with the fallout of the storm. Then the war in Ukraine started. And it would impact their recovery journey.
“From the start of the pandemic until Typhoon Odette, our life has been in crisis, and it’s gotten harder because the price of the gasoline has increased because of the war in Ukraine. Our earnings are mostly spent to buy gasoline, and the little money we have left is for our family. We’re really on a tight budget. We just have vegetables to survive.” – Romnick
Inflation and financial uncertainty
With many people rebuilding, there was an increased demand for essential materials. That’s materials like plywood and Corrugated Galvanized Iron (CGI). Inevitably, this led to price increases in local markets.
People could buy less with their money, reducing the impact that their available finances had on recovery. In addition, there weren’t enough skilled labourers to meet the increasing demand. That’s people who, for example, mill coco lumber to make construction materials.
“The repair [on the house] stopped for the meantime because I don’t have enough materials. I am waiting for them to be complete but I can’t buy more for now. I only have six pieces of plywood. The plywood is so expensive now because of the typhoon – it has doubled in price.
“The hardware store owners are taking advantage of the situation because people really must buy materials to fix their houses. The price of lumber has also increased and will continue to do so. For people who don’t have much money, that’s what they use – [coco lumber] is the most accessible and affordable material to build a house.” – Felix