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28 February 2024

'Cramped' houses row over Philippine typhoon survivors


International aid agencies have criticised a Philippine government plan to move homeless survivors of the country's deadliest typhoon into "cramped" temporary shelters, officials said Wednesday.

The issue has disrupted the Super Typhoon Haiyan rehabilitation effort as the government halted further construction of bunkhouses so they could be redesigned, they said.

"There were some concerns that it (the room assigned to each family) was too cramped," President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

The typhoon left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing on November 8 as it laid waste to an area the size of Portugal, wrecking about 1.2 million homes.

Aquino has said it may take the Philippines four years to rebuild from the disaster, much of the destruction wrought by giant waves unleashed by the massive storm that obliterated coastal communities.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said the concerns were aired by members of United Nations agencies and humanitarian organisations working primarily with a "cluster" of government institutions to address Haiyan survivors' shelter needs.

"They told us the rooms that we made were too small," Singson said after meeting with the "shelter" cluster on Tuesday.

A total of 126 buildings have so far been built out of a planned 222. The temporary shelters will house families now living in tents as the government identifies sites where they can safely relocate later, Singson said.

Each of the current bunkhouses, which cost 836,000 pesos ($18,660) to build, is made up of 24 rooms measuring 8.64 square metres (93 square feet), he said in an interview broadcast by Manila television network ABS-CBN.

Singson said he explained to the humanitarian agencies that it was not the government's intention to cram large families into a single tiny room.

But heeding the aid agencies' concerns, the government will now build bunkhouses designed for 12 families each, Singson said, giving them twice the space.

The bunkhouses as well as permanent relocation sites are funded by the government, he said.

The aid agencies' shelter assistance is limited to providing tents and construction tool kits to the displaced, Singson added.

Officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who are assigned to the disaster zone, declined to comment when contacted by AFP on Wednesday.

Singson said not all the displaced survivors would be put in bunkhouses.

Others have opted to accept construction materials from the government so they could rebuild their homes on their own, he said.