MEDIA STATEMENT: Uphold Yolanda survivors’ right to adequate housing

TACLOBAN City,June 18—On November 8, 2013, Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), said to be the strongest typhoon to hit land in history, slammed into Eastern Visayas and went on to pound the rest of central Philippines. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimates that 14.16 million or 15% of the total Philippine population has been affected; 3.62 million people displaced; 1.1 million houses damaged. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported at least 5,600 dead, 26,231 injured, and 1,761 missing.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) attributed the extent of the damage to houses in Yolanda-affected areas to the low quality of materials used in their construction and to their location in hazard-prone areas.

To address this problem, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) immediately ordered the prohibition of building structures within 40 meters from coastlines of bodies of water. A Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) of the DENR, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) later defined “hazard zones” based on hydro-meteorological maps that indicate the level of susceptibility of areas to natural hazards. The JMC mandated local government units (LGUs) to use these maps in crafting or updating their Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Plans, and in implementing resettlement programs.

Accordingly, to speed up the implementation of resettlement programs, President Aquino issued Administrative Order No. 44 streamlining the process of issuance of permits, certifications, clearances, and licenses for housing projects in Yolanda-affected areas.

The government also earmarked 76.6 billion to housing and resettlement—the biggest part of the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan for Yolanda-hit provinces. So far, only 17.3% of the amount has been downloaded. As of January 2015, only 46,129 housing units (out of the 155,128 units target by June 2016) have been bid-out.

As a result, thousands of families still live in “unsafe zones”. A recent report from National Secretariat for Social Action/Caritas Philippines also revealed that 3,000 families living in hazard zones are facing the threat of forced eviction from the City Government of Tacloban.

Indeed, there has been delay in the implementation of government resettlement programs, compromising people’s rights to resettlement and adequate housing. The weak enforcement of government policies on “unsafe zones/no-dwelling zones” and land acquisition for resettlement poses serious problems in building resilient and sustainable communities.

Almost two years after Yolanda, the government and its partners have yet to ensure that families living in unsafe zones will be relocated to permanent safe sites with security of land tenure and access to livelihood opportunities and basic infrastructure and social services.

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) calls on the government to uphold people’s right to adequate housing as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions such as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to adequate housing, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, comprises: security of land tenure, affordability and resilience of houses, availability of services and infrastructure, accessibility and location in safe areas, and cultural adequacy. Moreover, adequate housing relates to security and access to other basic services including health care, education, employment and others.

To fulfill this, the government should take the necessary measures to speed up the resettlement efforts and to institutionalize policies that will protect the right to adequate housing of Yolanda survivors and victims of other disasters in the future.