On Philippines Independence Day today, we look at how hundreds of vulnerable families now have new shelters which incorporate features to reduce the impact of disasters, thanks to Islamic Relief’s project to help Filipino communities to recover from a devastating super-storm.

Typhoon Haiyan – the most powerful tropical storm in recent history to make landfall anywhere on earth – affected over 14.1 people when it barrelled across the Philippines in November. More than one million homes were damaged, with almost 550,000 completely destroyed.

Months after the category five storm, millions of families remain displaced. Many still live in makeshift shelters, tents, or in evacuation centres set up during the emergency.

Islamic Relief was the first organisation to begin constructing core and permanent shelters in Bantayan, northern Cebu. Our project, which was funded by the Disasters Emergency Committee, benefited 270 of the most vulnerable families in Bantayan and Santa Fe.

“It was like a dream to all of us.”

Roland and his family were amongst those to receive a new shelter. Before the storm – known locally as Yolanda – they lived in a two-roomed home in Sillon, Bantayan. Like many Filipino families without land, they were prohibited from building permanent structures on the land upon which they live. It meant their homes were particularly vulnerable to storms and other natural disasters.

“Everything was normal before Yolanda,” Roland told us. “I was living very happily with my wife and children. I was earning a little but sufficient to meet the daily needs of my family and we were also saving some money to extend and strengthen our house.

When the typhoon struck, the family lost everything.

“Our house was destroyed in front of our eyes. My wife started crying and shouting with grief and fear.”

In the days that followed, Roland salvaged some materials from his ruined home to construct a makeshift shelter– but without a proper roof and walls it was not safe for his children. An Islamic Relief tent allowed the family to live together once more, with some protection from the elements.

Then, Roland was approached by Islamic Relief as a potential beneficiary for our newest shelter scheme. In a community meeting, it was confirmed that the Roland’s family would be amongst the hundreds of families to receive a new home. Islamic Relief prioritised poor families without land-rights – as well as 42 families that live close to the ocean, on land which has been designated high-risk by the government.

“It was like a dream to all of us. My wife and I were very happy. Now we have a house that is even better than the one we lost. Now my house is handed over to me, and I am not able to express my feelings. All of us are very thankful to Islamic Relief.”

The project saw us work closely with families from the six barangays (village areas), to ensure that they were happy with the location of their new homes. We also employed local people to help in the construction of shelters. The scheme also helped in reviving the local economy, with market demand for construction materials, particularly hollow blocks and coco-lumber.

Building back, better

An average of 20 typhoons a year hit the Philippines, a country which can also experience prolonged drought induced by El Niño, warm ocean waters. Disaster-resilient features were therefore incorporated into the new homes.

The 20m² shelters are made to international best practice and standards. They are considered flood resilient, with elevated concrete flooring.

Made with high quality construction materials, the shelters are also designed with roofing to withstand average winds and can be extended in future by families that wish to without compromising the integrity of the home.

Construction began in March, and within three months Islamic Relief had completed 75 shelters in Unity village as well as 195 new homes in five other locations in Santa Fe and Bantayan.

Connecting communities

Preparations are underway by the Municipality of Bantayan to connect the new communities to water and electricity supplies, as well as the road network. With environmentally friendly communal toilets currently provided in the communities, Islamic Relief will be teaming up with the local authority to fit every household with toilets. A day care centre is also planned, to offer childcare to local families.

Islamic Relief is also the lead organisation for shelter in northern Cebu, and actively supports coordination of shelter projects, as other organisations begin delivering much-needed projects in the area.

We were one of the first international organisations on the ground in northern Cebu in the aftermath of the storm. Our emergency response included distribution of food, water, and shelter that saw our largest ever single consignment of aid delivered to the country on a charted Boeing 747.