The coconut is known for having multiple uses. This holds true even after supertyphoon Yolanda, when coconut trees manage to go a long way after being buffeted by the storm.
Yolanda downed millions of coconut trees or left them standing like matchsticks as its swept through the central Philippines a year ago. Aside from the storm surge it brought to coastal communities, the storm crippled a major industry in this part of the country.
Today, international organizations like the United Nations Development Programme are teaming up with local governments, line agencies, other NGOs and the storm survivors themselves to create a value chain for these coconut trees left strewn on the ground.
The process provides income to coconut farmers, generates employment, provides skills training and establishes entire communities for storm survivors still living in tents and makeshift houses in danger areas.
Farm to mill
UNDP’s technical adviser to the Philippine Coconut Authority Adam Marlatt says that UNDP, through funding from the European Union, buys coconut trees strewn on farms from the farmers themselves.
Using chainsaws provided by the Philippine Coconut Authority, farm workers separate high-quality from low-quality lumber and bring only the former to the roadside. In key Eastern Visayas areas, including Tacloban City, around 80 haulers are employed to perform this task. Trees are hauled from five to 10 farms a day.
Bringing the lumber from the roadside to the mills then employs a separate set of truckers.
At the mill, workers fashion the lumber into standard-size wood, ready for transport to various shelter sites in the region. The UNDP has partnered with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for some of these sites.
Former coconut farmer Efren Sarino says that this project has enabled his family to cope with their losses after the devastation brought by the storm.
He now earns his keep from hauling wood—lower than what he used to, but enough to keep his family together. “I am still lucky. We did not lose a single family member to Yolanda,” he said.
Communities, not just houses
In Tacloban City, the coconut mill in Barangay Diit produces coco lumber for the IOM’s shelter site in nearby Barangay 101 - New Kawayan, 13 kilometers north of Tacloban City proper.
The city government of Tacloban purchased the land from the owners and partnered with international NGOs to develop temporary shelters where typhoon victims can stay for two to three years. At the end of that period, the LGU will have raised enough money to provide them permanent housing.
About 1,200 families from Bgy. 88 - San Jose which lost more than 1,000 residents from Yolanda—are set to be transferred to the transitional shelter site. Each unit measures on average 35 square meters.
The superstructures, built from coco lumber, are designed in a way that can survive winds of up to 220 kilometers per hour. “The ‘sacrificial’ elements like the roof and the walls may be blown away, but the houses will remain,” said Marlatt.
IOM’s partner All Hands is in charge of the construction specifics, involving typhoon survivors in all stages of the assembly-line construction process.
“The aim is not just to give them opportunities to earn daily wages but to build their construction skills,” said Marlatt. “One construction team is composed of experienced builders and apprentices. As the project moves along, the apprentices build their skills.”
IOM and All Hands intend to employ at least 200 construction workers.
Samaritan’s Purse, another IOM partner, takes care of the water sanitation and health (WASH) aspect of the site.
UNDP Director for Asia-Pacific Bureau and United Nations assistant administrator Haoliang Xu visited both the coco lumber mill and the shelter site to check on the progress of these projects on November 8 2014, anniversary of the landfall of typhoon Yolanda.
Xu was briefed by the IOM, working in tandem with the city government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development in ensuring that what they would build are communities, not just houses for people to live in.
For the New Kawayan project, there will be a social area and a multi-purpose structure where basic services can be provided. The project leaders say that they need to address more than the shelter needs of the people.