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Philippines typhoon survivors determined to hope
by Staff Writers
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Dec 07, 2013

Philippines to miss tourism targets due to disasters
Manila (AFP) Dec 07, 2013 - The Philippines is unlikely to hit its target of five million tourists this year due to damage caused by twin disasters, a tourism official said Saturday.

Killer Super Typhoon Haiyan hit on November 8 and a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on October 15, causing devastation in tourist areas which resulted in many cancelled reservations, said Domingo Enerio, chief of the government's Tourism Promotions Board.

Both the 2013 target and the 6.8 million target for 2014 may have to be revised in the face of the damage, he said.

"We have been beset by huge challenges: the earthquake and typhoon. It was a double whammy for the Philippines," he told AFP.

Tourist arrivals up to September have already reached about 3.6 million, up from 3.2 million in the same period last year, he said.

But the disasters will affect arrivals in the last three months which are the peak season for tourists, he warned.

The earthquake, which killed more than 220 people, shattered historic churches and tourism facilities and damaged roads in the central islands of Cebu and Bohol, both popular tourist destinations.

Less than a month later, Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central islands, leaving more than 7,500 dead or missing and devastating whole towns including popular hotels, beach resorts, surfing and dive sites.

Worldwide news coverage of the destruction has discouraged visitors, Enerio said.

"These resorts are in that particular area which is very well known in international markets," he said.

"It is not just one destination. The whole country's image has been affected," he added.

To counter this, the government and private sector are making an effort to tell tourists that there are many other attractions in the archipelago which have not been affected by the recent disasters, he said.

Despite the setbacks, the government is still sticking to its target of 10 million tourist arrivals in 2016, up from about 4.3 million in 2012, Enerio added.

"We can come back with a very strong campaign that will inform the world about how beautiful our country is. It still has a warm and welcoming people who are still hospitable to all foreigners," he said.

A raggedy cloth banner in a Philippine town torn apart by one of the most powerful typhoons on record declares that its residents are "roofless, homeless, but not hopeless".

Super Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,500 people dead or missing and ruined the homes of about four million others when it tore across some of the Philippines' poorest fishing and farming communities.

A month after the typhoon struck, the battle for survival remains undeniably desperate in squalid towns, where masses of survivors huddle on roads still choked with debris while waiting for noodles, rice, water or other essentials being handed out by relief workers.

But the hand-painted message on the banner, hanging above a shop front being repaired on the outskirts of the hard-hit port city of Ormoc, represents a spirit of hope and resilience that resonates throughout the disaster zone.

International relief workers, who spend their lives visiting disaster zones around the world, have expressed surprise and admiration at the outwardly jovial determination of the survivors to "bangon", or rise, again.

"People are really struggling and yet the vast majority have got this incredible spirit where they just refuse to be defeated by this disaster," International Federation of the Red Cross spokesman Patrick Fuller told AFP on Friday after visiting some of the worst-hit areas in and around the coastal city of Tacloban.

And while much of the international focus in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon has been on the enormous relief effort that was initially dominated by a giant US military contingent, many survivors have quietly started rebuilding their lives using their own initiative.

In the tiny farming community of Kananga on Leyte island, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Tacloban, virtually all of the coconut trees that have sustained families for generations lie worthless on the ground after being ripped apart by Haiyan's monster winds.

Farmer Pepito Baring and a group of young men were on Friday using a chainsaw in the badly damaged local cemetery to cut coconut trees, which were resting on shattered concrete graves, into planks of timber.

"It takes two trees to get enough wood to rebuild a temporary shelter," Baring, 56, said as he stood bare-chested in the fierce early afternoon sun wearing only a pair of dirty shorts and flimsy rubber sandals.

Along the 100-kilometre road between the devastated towns of Ormoc and Tacloban, there are many similar, improvised saw mills that have spurred an astonishingly fast construction boom, albeit of flimsy homes that would be equally unable to withstand another typhoon.

Countless homes of farming and urban communities have been resurrected using the "coco lumber", as well as the recycled materials of their destroyed houses and sometimes tarpaulin roofing donated by relief organisations.

The number of people listed by the government as homeless has dropped from more than four million shortly after Haiyan struck to just 94,000, with one important factor, the determination of survivors to rebuild their homes themselves using whatever means they can.

Healing Haiyan's wounds to take years

Nevertheless, the poorly rebuilt homes are just band-aids over a gruesome wound that authorities say will take many years and billions of dollars to heal.

Most areas of the central Leyte and Samar islands that were the worst hit by Haiyan remain without electricity and supplies of drinking water.

And nearly three million people remain reliant on life-saving food aid or farming support, such as crop seeds, according to the United Nations.

People living in ruined communities along the sides of major roads on Leyte write messages on boards, such as: "Help us, we need food", in the hope of getting a relief truck to stop.

Yet, desperation should not always be confused for despair.

In one devastated coastal community on the outskirts of Tacloban, hundreds of people queued on Friday for what they said were their first supplies of bottled water for a week.

Among them was Rosalinda Tabao, 55, a mother-of-six who lost her shanty home, her vegetable-stall business and three cousins when Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges swept across their town.

Tabao said her family lost everything, including all their money and the vegetable crops on a small plot of land they rented and which supplied her vegetable stall.

But Tabao refused to be defeated.

Four days after Haiyan struck, Tabao made a seven-hour bus trip to Ormoc and bought 500 pesos ($12) worth of Chinese cabbage seeds using money donated by her mother-in-law, and sent her husband to plant them on their tiny farm.

"They should be ready in a month," Tabao said as she stood in the queue waiting for water. "Once they are ready, I'll sell them and use the money to buy more seeds, maybe eggplant."

Like her neighbours, Tabao and her husband had also quickly rebuilt a temporary shelter where their old home stood using salvaged materials.

Asked about her strongest emotions over the past month, Tabao said: "I hope. As long as I live, I'll continue to hope."


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