A shelter in Tacloban City A shelter in Tacloban City Photo credit: Charlie David Martinez/CRS
Urban shelter and settlement recovery: a ‘menu of options’ for households
by Catholic Relief Services Philippines January 2015

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on 8 November 2013, killing 6,300 people and injuring another 29,000. An estimated four million people were displaced from their homes. This article reflects on Catholic Relief Service (CRS)’s urban shelter and settlement recovery programme in Tacloban City. The programme, which offers a ‘menu of options’ to households, works closely with affected communities to find shelter solutions by putting decision- making power in the hands of households themselves.

The USAID/OFDA and CRS urban shelter and settlements recovery programme

The Humanitarian Communities’ Strategic Response Plan for Typhoon Haiyan, approved by the national government, states that families with destroyed or damaged homes, including displaced people, should attain appropriate and sustainable shelter solutions. Likewise, the Shelter Cluster’s Recovery Guidelines highlight the need for shelter assistance programmes to ensure that families have ‘adequate appropriate and safe shelter supporting them to transition along the pathway to permanent durable housing, prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable, ensuring participation, freedom of choice, and access to basic services to ensure a life of dignity’.

Within this context, CRS, with funding from the US Agency for International Development – Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), has taken an integrated approach in its urban shelter and settlements recovery programme, which has placed neighbourhoods at the centre of the project. The Typhoon Haiyan Recovery Program aims to complement the Tacloban City government’s relocation project, which has focused on one main site approximately 15 kilometres north of the centre, in a largely undeveloped area called New Kawayan. Other smaller-scale relocation projects include permanent shelters for approximately 14,000 households in coastal barangays. However, the sites selected are considered too far away by the majority of affected households, and many are finding it difficult to create new livelihoods or maintain their previous livelihoods in the proposed relocation sites.

CRS’ approach offers alternative shelter options to typhoon-affected households. Working at community and household level, the programme has focused on helping households to find their own shelter and settlement solutions close to their original homes, livelihoods and social structures. CRS is targeting 3,000 affected households in 17 of the 31 high-risk coastal barangays in Tacloban City.

Whether households can legally return and rebuild on the land they occupied before the typhoon has been a central question in planning shelter and settlement assistance. In the early days after the typhoon, the national government announced a blanket 40-meter buffer zone along the coastline, which it designated a ‘No Dwell Zone’ (NDZ). This blanket ban was later lifted, and it has been left to local governments to set the parameters of these zones according to hazard assessments. Twelve months on, information from the assessments for Tacloban City is still not widely available; the local government has yet to make a decision about zoning, and is unlikely to do so in the near future. The widespread lack of secure land tenure adds a further layer of uncertainty.

crs-table-1The lack of clarity around zoning and tenure issues has led CRS to develop a twin-track approach, in consultation with neighbourhood residents and the local government. This provides a menu of options for assistance which caters to households in both the ill-defined ‘Dwell Zone’ (DZ) and the NDZ. For the purposes of this project CRS has come to an understanding with the City to use a main coastal road to define the boundary. Households that are in the DZ and which own land are relatively easy to assist through on-site shelter and latrine reconstruction and repair. The most vulnerable households – those in the NDZ which share a house or do not own land – are much more difficult to assist.

‘Menu of Options’ for households in the Dwell Zone

DZ households are offered on-site assistance to repair or rebuild their houses calibrated according to the level of damage. Following assessment by CRS engineers, cash payments and materials are provided in conditional tranches to assist with rebuilding or construction of transitional shelters and latrines. A team of engineers and foremen oversees and monitors construction or repairs and ensures that ‘Build Back Safer’ techniques are incorporated into the design and construction. These activities in the DZ allow displaced households to return to their place of origin and provide households with a safe, secure and durable home. An estimated 41% of the 3,000 households assisted by CRS in this project fall into this category.

One CRS beneficiary household that sought emergency shelter in a nearby church in the face of the storm lost most of their possessions, but their house was found to be sound. Under the project they received PHP 20,000 (approximately $500) and corrugated iron sheets to repair the roof. With the cash the household bought lumber and other materials and hired carpenters to build their new roof. The beneficiary said: ‘my family and I can sleep comfortable and secure without worrying about the rain’. Other families that have received support have prioritised the building of strong second floors, in case of another storm surge.

‘Menu of Options’ for households in the No Dwell Zone

The NDZ is considered a high-risk area and the local government will not permit humanitarian organisations to provide onsite assistance beyond emergency shelter distributions (plastic sheets and non-food items). The absence of humanitarian assistance in these areas meant that unsupported reconstruction was being undertaken without adequate materials or expertise. Many households took out high-interest personal loans from local lenders to purchase materials or hire labour, only to begin building inadequate and inappropriate shelters.

CRS worked with the neighbourhoods to develop a ‘Menu of Options’ for households in the NDZ to enable them to relocate to safer areas within Tacloban, while staying as close as possible to their place of origin in order to limit disruption to livelihoods and education, and to maintain households’ familial and community support systems. After substantial debate, assessments and consultations, CRS finalised four two-year options that households could choose from:

  1. ‘Rent to own’ land subsidy: financial support to move to a safe location where families can potentially own land, together with a full shelter and latrine package.
  2. Land rental subsidy: financial support to rent a plot of land in a safe location, together with a full shelter and latrine package.
  3. Apartment rental subsidy: financial support to rent an apartment or house in a safe location.
  4. Host family subsidy: Financial support to live with a family member or friend in a safe location.

After working directly with the Mayor’s Office and local landowners without much success, CRS found that it was more effective to place the responsibility on each household to find a piece of land, apartment or host family to which they would be happy to relocate. Once decision-making power was shifted to households, solutions started to emerge. In one case, 38 households living in the San Fernando evacuation centre identified a plot of land in a safe, inland barangay two kilometres from the project neighbourhood, and negotiated the monthly rental payment. CRS then determined whether the land was suitable and began construction of individual shelters, latrines, communal septic tanks, water taps, hand pumps and electrical connections. Families have been able to determine their own future, providing continuity of social connections between households within the original barangays and fostering a sense of community (what is known locally as ‘Bayanihan’) in the relocation areas.

CRS has also enabled households to find solutions through the use of aerial photography and participatory community mapping exercises to find potential areas for urban densification. In one barangay with a large number of households located in the NDZ, the barangay captain and community members identified the owner of a plot within the barangay and negotiated to ‘infill’ his plot to accommodate 75 shelters, through a community-driven selection process, for the most vulnerable households in the NDZ.

Facilitating permanent solutions

CRS, through cash and material support, is facilitating a permanent solution for those households in the DZ who can repair and rebuild in their original location. In addition, the organisation is providing transitional solutions for the majority of households in the NDZ through the Menu of Options, to facilitate relocation to safer areas nearby. Experience in Haiti, elsewhere in the Philippines and in other countries indicates that these transitional solutions are likely to evolve into permanent shelter solutions. However, concerns remain about what will happen at the end of the project. Many households were unwilling to leave the relative security of their communities within the NDZ, especially with so much uncertainty about long-term plans. Households were concerned about maintaining their current livelihoods, the additional cost of transport to schools and their long-term ability to pay for alternative shelter options as humanitarian support declines. Many households initially opted to remain in the danger areas, investing their limited resources in rebuilding in situ in the hope of a place in the government’s permanent relocation site. The confusion around the possibility of eviction, and initial calculations by many households that housing would be ready and available in a permanent relocation site, led many to delay thinking about their immediate future.

To support informed decision-making, CRS facilitated site visits for over 1,100 households to the land in the govern- ment’s permanent relocation site to see the permanent shelters that households might receive. CRS invited government officials to discuss the plans for permanent relocation and the selection criteria that they would use to determine who would be eligible. CRS also discussed the ‘Menu of Options’ and encouraged households to find transitional shelter solutions to facilitate work towards a permanent solution, which could be in their current site, in New Kawayan or elsewhere. Once households understood the full picture and timeline of government and CRS support, they became more enthusiastic about finding transitional shelter solutions. In the weeks after the visit, the number of transitional shelter solutions that households presented to CRS for assessment increased significantly.

CRS and the Tacloban City government are offering complementary shelter and settlement solutions to affected people in Tacloban. There are real challenges in ensuring an inclusive process, particularly in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, but the CRS shelter and settlement programme is finding solutions by putting decision-making power in the hands of households themselves.

This article was developed collaboratively by Holly Fuller (Program Manager – CRS Philippines), Seki Hirano (Senior Technical Advisor, Shelter and Settlements – CRS), Vera Kreuwels (Technical Advisor, Shelter and Settlements – CRS), Joshua Kyller (Emergency Coordinator – CRS) and Jane Strangways (Masters candidate – Oxford Brookes University).