The following description of the situation in Guinob-an, Eastern Samar, is drawn from daily conversations we’ve had with family members there who can now reach us via cell phone. It describes Guinob-an — but it could just as easily describe any of the more than 10,000 coastal villages throughout the central Visayas who have been ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan and where villagers are now struggling to simply survive. The description is not meant so much to single out Guinob-an, as to remind us of what 850,000 families in 12,000 villages throughout the Central Visayas are struggling to contend iwth.
Guinob-an, Municipality of Lawaan, Easter Samar — The Way It Was Before Yolanda
Life in Guinob-an, Eastern Samar had changed more in the last twenty years than in all the years that had come before. It was in those twenty years that the first road into the coastal village had been completed. Electricity and running water were products of the last twenty years as well. And a cell signal. Even with those modern conveniences, on the eve of typhoon Yolanda the town of 1,032 (Haiyan internationally) lived much as it always had. The twenty-eight fishing boats went out each day, fishing for whatever was in season. A fishing family would feed itself then dispatch someone — usually a young girl — to walk through the town’s 230 dwellings, calling out “isda” and selling the remainder, the small earnings then used to purchase cooking oil, sugar, salt. Villagers hiked into the hilly jungle terrain nearby to harvest copra from coconut plots, and underneath the coconut trees they planted root crops to supplement the family larder. There was an elementary school — for older children there was a long wal or tricycle ride into Lawaan. Everywhere there were trees and greenery — whether it was the seaside coconut groves and mango trees that provided shade, or the shockingly green hillsides that swept up to the mountain interior, or the mangroves to the east of town.
In those days you could walk into the hills and find your way to Amandaraga Falls. This is very close — within walking distance — and gives a feel for the verdant nature of the surroundings as they were before the typhoon.
Guinob-an After Yolanda
Everything is changed now.
Of the town’s 232 homes, only a handful are still standing — mostly the homes of the families who have someone living abroad who, over he years, had been able to help them transform their home from native or makeshift materials into a proper “concreto na balay” — a house made of hollow blocks and cement. Those houses at least partially survived, but the others — obliterated.
A month later, families have cobbled together some form of makeshift shelter, but that’s all it is — a makeshift shanty.
There is no green anywhere except in the waters of Lawaan Bay. The hillsides that were were covered in magnificent greenery are now brown and barren. The trees that provided shade throughout the town are gone. Every afternoon the air is acrid with smoke from the burning of debris.
There had been no food for 8 days after the typhoon. Then aid began to arrive — first in the form of donations from family members abroad. Each household got 2 kilos of rise and a can of sardines on November sixteenth, eight days after the typhoon — a two day supply. On November 10th, each family got 3 kilos of rice from another private donation by a native of the town living abroad. Then that afternoon, the Philippine red cross distributed two kilos of rice per family. Over the next week more relief aid came in, and families were able to stock their larders.
Now, a month later, it’s been four days and no food shipments have come in. Food supplies are beginning to dwindle and villagers wonder if they will be forgotten again.
The fishing boats haven’t been repaired.
A government announcement says that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is planning to provide 10,000 fishing boats to fishermen in the affected area but no one has any confidence that any of these boats will make it to Guinob-an. Meanwhile to build the kind of small native fishing vessel the men are used to using costs P20,000 (about $575), far beyond the reach of anyone in the village.
The government has announced it will provide coconut seedlings but even if such seedlings do in fact get distributed in Guinob-an, it will take 3-5 years before there will be fruit.
No one knows how they will survive beyond the next few days — but of course, they will survive, and eventually, one way or another, the town will come back. The open question is when? And will it be the same as before – or could it be better?
Very few of the inhabitants of Guinob-an want to leave every though the town bears little resemblance to the one that stood there a month ago. It’s more than just buildings being knocked down — the face of the earth has been scraped away and a verdant, graceful land of greens and blues, of light and shade, is now stripped bare and even when new buildings go up, they will bake in the sun for years before the graceful blend of light and shade returns.
But they aren’t going to leave.