The fifth anniversary on Thursday of the deadly super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is an apt time to highlight the importance of the public's cooperation in government-initiated pre-disaster activities and environmental programs, according to local authorities.
For Leopoldo Dominic Petilla, governor of Leyte Province in the central part of the country that bore the brunt of Haiyan nearly five years ago, this is "the most important message that we can send to people during the anniversary."
Pettila, in an interview with Kyodo News, said it is only natural for people to become less vigilant over the passage of time, including in terms of their readiness to follow evacuation orders when a calamity strikes.
"We have to use the occasion to remind people that we have to cooperate in terms of evacuation, disaster preparedness, (and) even (in) protecting the environment."
The province, home to more than 1.7 million Filipinos, will hold commemorative activities, including offering Holy Mass and candles-lighting, on Thursday and Friday to specifically remember those who perished from what has been regarded as the strongest typhoon to ever hit land.
Similar events are also scheduled in Leyte's capital Tacloban, the main urban center that was badly ravaged by Haiyan, as well as in the neighboring island of Samar.
(Teiichiro Yotsukura (L) of the Ishinomaki NPO Center from Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, speaks to local women in Basey in the central Philippine island of Samar)
Classes and government work in some areas on Leyte island will be suspended for the occasion.
Packing winds of up to 230 kilometers per hour and triggering storm surges as high as up to 6 meters in the morning of Nov. 8, 2013, Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead and missing across the country's central islands.
More than a million houses were either partially or totally wrecked, and close to 90 billion pesos (nearly $1.7 billion) worth of damage was recorded.
Petilla said that while recovery in his province was fast, some challenges remain to this day, including the allocation of decent housing units to his constituents.
He laments that the National Housing Authority has yet to fulfill its commitment of building and awarding several thousands of houses, which was promised to the people of Leyte after Haiyan.
Another challenge, observed by a Japanese national involved in a post-Haiyan technical assistance project in both Samar and Leyte, is on improving the income of local fisherfolk.
"The aim of my project is increasing fishermen's income (in Haiyan-affected areas). But honestly speaking, I don't have confidence that their income is increasing," Teiichiro Yotsukura, the implementer of a three-year oyster culture project in the two islands, told Kyodo News.
"Fisherfolk are still living very difficult lives...I don't see their lives changing," said Yotsukura, who first visited the Haiyan-affected areas in 2014 and started implementing his project through the Japan International Cooperation Agency two years later.
Lelita Pada-on, 41, a member of a women's group in Basey municipality in Samar who attended an oyster processing workshop as part of Yotsukura's project, admits she made more profit from selling barbecue and alcohol products outside a cockfighting arena before Haiyan struck, than from the different livelihood activities she is currently engaged in.
(Lelita Pada-on (R) takes part in a Japanese-initiated oyster processing workshop project)
Yotsukura, whose passionate involvement in the Haiyan-affected areas stems from his being a survivor himself of the 2011 twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami in Japan, eyes better science and marketing strategy as key to achieving his goal for oyster farmers in Samar and Leyte.
Marvin Isanan, a survivor from Tacloban who lost his three daughters during the tragedy, also continues to yearn for an opportunity to land in a stable and good-paying job suited to his skills and background.
"I don't have a stable means of livelihood. That's what makes our life a bit difficult now," the former security staff told Kyodo News in an interview at his family's new permanent housing unit in Tacloban. "Oftentimes, my wallet is really empty."
Isanan gets by with his wife and their only son on a day-to-day basis by running a small store right at their home and occasionally taking passengers on his tricycle.
But amid the challenges, Petilla describes a generally better situation, hailing "the resiliency of the people" as the most notable positive thing that came out of their horrific experience five years ago, and which was repeatedly displayed storm-after-storm and earthquake-after-earthquake that hit the island in the years that followed.
(Marvin Isanan (R) and his wife, Loreta in front of the house that was awarded to them after the disaster)
He credits the local and national governments, as well as international and local nongovernmental organizations, for their concerted recovery efforts and programs.
Putting more weight on the tragedy's psychological and emotional impact on the people, and less on the physical infrastructure when gauging recovery, Petilla said, "Most of the things are normal. I would say, generally, the trauma has been managed."
The provincial chief executive went on to say that agriculture, on which the province relies heavily, has picked up, while many popular fast-food restaurants and community malls have sprung in various municipalities, and poverty incidence has gone down.
Mindful of climate change, he said, local farmers have been introduced to multi-cropping, so as not to rely on traditional coconut products. Raising of poultry and livestock has been encouraged. Planting of indigenous trees has been carried out.
Since it is difficult to force people to abandon their homes near the coast due to their source of living, evacuation centers have been built and properly identified "so that, if there's a typhoon, they know where to evacuate."
"A year after Yolanda, we had typhoon Ruby (known internationally as Hagupit). Before I could even give the order to evacuate, they were already in the evacuation centers," Petilla said, illustrating how people have learned from Haiyan.
He said that after Haiyan, the provincial government purposely built on the peoples' natural resilience in crafting and executing its rehabilitation plan "because we know that Yolanda (as Haiyan is known locally) is not the last calamity that will hit us."