Weeks after typhoon, massive recovery takes shape in Philippines

With aid finally reaching remote areas, Filipinos are looking at how to rebuild after Haiyan

Francisco Reposar, 27, collects wood washed ashore by Typhoon Haiyan to construct a house in Leyte province, Philippines, on Nov. 24, 2013.
Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Romnick Abadines' heart pounded as a Philippine air force C-130 carried him above typhoon-wrecked Tacloban. He had never been on a plane before, never watched silvery white clouds pass so close. It was not the first time — or the last — that he felt helpless and out of his element.

The frail, 31-year-old farmer lost his home to Typhoon Haiyan, which flattened much of Tacloban in Leyte province and killed more than 5,200 people. Now he lies idle in a tent shelter in suburban Manila, where he has no known relatives and little chance of finding more than menial and temporary work.

Abadines' situation is indicative of what the millions affected by the typhoon now face. As foreign military and domestically funded aid operations begin to get the immediate humanitarian crisis under control, longer-term hurdles like finding jobs and rebuilding entire cities are coming into focus.

Only an estimated 12,000 people displaced by the massive Nov. 8 typhoon have made it to the capital of Manila. Most are with relatives; those with no family are in shelters. Many have no idea how or where to rebuild their lives.

"What will happen to us when this kindness ends?" asked Maribel Villajos, a 37-year-old mother of three children who sat with her husband on cots surrounded by bags of newly donated clothes, potato chips and instant-coffee packets at the same shelter where Abadines and his family were taken.

Villajos' husband is a carpenter, but his tools were swept away along with their house in the tsunami-like storm surge that swept far into Tacloban and ruined much of the densely populated coastal city.

Thousands of people from areas wrecked by Haiyan clambered aboard free C-130 mercy flights to Manila without any plan in a desperate bid to escape the crisis back home.

The exodus is an extra challenge to President Benigno Aquino III's government, which is feeding and sheltering tens of thousands of people in the disaster zones, collecting the dead in Tacloban and outlying provinces, restoring power and water and laying out a blueprint to rebuild entire villages and towns. More than a million houses were destroyed or damaged by the typhoon.

The gargantuan size of the effort prompted billions in international aid, including about $52 million from the U.S. The U.S. military sent some 50 ships and aircraft to assist with distributing food, water and other supplies and helped speed up delivery by reopening roads, ports and airports.

But the United Nations' humanitarian office said $348 million more in aid is still needed.

Other countries stepped up to help out as well, although some were criticized for paltry offerings.

China's post-typhoon relief efforts were initially lambasted, even by Chinese media, as inadequate. The government responded last week by sending a hospital ship to assist.

As individuals try to rebuild their lives, the Philippine government is taking stock and making plans to prevent damage from future storms.

The government announced Sunday that it will plant more mangrove areas to mitigate the effects of storm surges like the one that claimed hundreds of lives during the typhoon.

Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma said the move was among the measures that will be part of a "comprehensive program of environmental protection" that is being forged in the wake of the typhoon.

The plan includes establishing coastal no-build zones, which may involve moving residents of those areas, said Coloma

Al Jazeera and wire services

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