CAGAYAN DE ORO — Determined to give his family a better future, Joel Obsid saved his hard-earned money while working abroad. After his return to the Philippines he started his own business in Cagayan de Oro selling school supplies, producing plastic envelopes and laminating cards. His income varied, often increasing during school days, from $460 to $700 for two weeks.
But what Joel saved over two years working abroad was swept away in
seconds when tropical storm Sendong (international name, Washi) hit the Philippines on Dec.
16 last year.
“We were trapped overnight. The flood reached the second floor of our
house. Suddenly, the flood flushed a snake into our house which attacked
my wife and daughter. I told them not to move. I was so afraid. I asked
my family to pray. Having survived the typhoon was a miracle,” Joel
remembers. The storm affected villages and major cities in the Philippines as it
took an unusual path. Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Mindanao and parts of
Dumaguete in Visayas were the worst hit cities. More than 50,000 houses
were damaged and the livelihoods of some 1.1 million people were
“We lost our livelihood. As a sales clerk, my wife only earns the
minimum wage (about US$6 per day) but this is not enough to support our
four children. At the age of 44, it will be hard for me to find a job.
Even if I know some people who could help me, they still prefer younger workers with better education and experience,* Joel explains.
After the storm a public school where Joel’s youngest daughter goes
to kindergarten, served as one of the evacuation centers. Joel and his
family temporarily stayed in the school gym where they spent the holiday
and the New Year. Waiting in a long cue for relief goods, Joel received
the equivalent of US$12 from a volunteer to help him and his family.
“I thought of spending the money to buy food, but knowing that it
will only last for a couple of days, I decided to use it to buy candies
and cigarettes. I built my own store inside the evacuation centre using
blankets and cardboards. Now I am earning up to US$116 per day out of my makeshift store. Having my own livelihood inside the evacuation center helped me to make a living,” Joel says.
However, Joel and his family will not be able to return to their house.
The government declared the area as a no-build zone. “We will not go
back to our house, but I hope we can soon find a place to stay where I
can move my store. I pray that my children will also have the chance to
get back to school.”
Unlike Joel, 62-year old Romanita Salilo is not yet ready to leave her
place. “It took me three years to have my own house. I do not spend
that much to go to my employer. Sometimes I can just walk to my working
place. If I live too far, how can I find work?” Romanita says. Living on her own, Romanita has to find work: “Otherwise, I have nothing to
Romanita’s son died barely two days after she lost her husband due to
cancer. “How can I face all these tragedies? Why did God save me from
the flood and not let me die?” Romanita cries.
Long-term solutions needed
Although significant progress has been made, much more needs to be done
to help the victims of the storm. Concerted efforts are required to
ensure that adequate temporary and long-term shelter solutions are
provided with access to livelihoods and income-generating opportunities.
For this purpose, the ILO convened a Livelihood Cluster together with
the Department of Social Welfare and Development, in coordination with
the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines, the United
Nations and its sister agencies, the national government and the local
government of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, to help typhoon-affected
families rebuild their lives through decent and productive work.
“Through the Livelihood Cluster, we will assist typhoon-affected
families and vulnerable groups. The Cluster will facilitate provision of
livelihood starter kits, emergency employment and cash-for-work
programs. Within the longer-term, we have to ensure access to
sustainable livelihoods at the local or community-level to help them
recover and to contribute to peace and security, while ensuring safety
and health,” says Lawrence Jeff Johnson, director of the ILO country
office for the Philippines.
The Livelihood Cluster is bringing together agencies working on
employment and income generating strategies. The livelihood recovery
process cuts across the different stages of crisis response from relief
through early recovery to sustainable development. Livelihood support
started on day 1 with food and cash-for-work activities and business
The Livelihood Cluster is now preparing a strategy for medium to longer
term recovery which includes support to community contracting modalities
to rehabilitate community assets such as infrastructure and productive
land, skills development to support the construction of houses and
support to small and medium enterprises to help the private sector
recover. Many families have lost their livelihoods and alternative
sources of livelihoods need to be found.
The ILO raised and contributed $280,000 to help rebuild livelihoods
in the two affected cities. This will include support to cash for work
and emergency employment programs, an impact assessment, building a
database and reaching out to the most vulnerable such as female-headed
households. The ILO is also coordinating with the shelter cluster to
ensure that livelihood recovery is integrated in the process of
developing permanent relocation sites.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines
provided US$20,000 to some 88 typhoon-affected families, most of them in
vulnerable employment. Cluster members, including trade unions, are also
working on profiles of affected families, both in and outside of the
evacuation centers. The Cluster also supported an in-depth assessment of
damages to livelihoods. Through the ILO, the Cluster will consolidate
the livelihood database together with the Department of Social Welfare
and Development and the Department of Labor and Employment of the