Philippines' post-typhoon rehab may take 10 years

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines' post-typhoon reconstruction could take as long as 10 years, with the leadership of President Benigno Aquino put to a test amid complex problems such as property rights, missing title deeds and land zoning, experts said on Wednesday.

The task will likely take longer and cost more than the rebuilding of Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami, they said.

Super typhoon Haiyan wiped out or damaged practically everything in its path as it swept ashore on Nov 8, with 7m storm surges destroying around 90 per cent of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province alone.

Haiyan killed at least 5,500 people, left more than 1,700 missing, displaced as many as four million and destroyed around $563 million worth of crops and infrastructure.

"The enormity of this disaster is unprecedented at least in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of the geography," said Mr Sanny Jegillos, coordinator for crisis prevention and recovery at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "It's much, much larger than the tsunami in Aceh.

"The rehabilitation cost will be more expensive for Haiyan, because a unit of a school will be more expensive than a school built in Aceh because of the design parameters."

The government's initial estimates point to a reconstruction cost of as much as 250 billion pesos (S$7.1 billion). Aceh's rebuilding over eight years required nearly US$7 billion (S$8.8 billion), funded by the Indonesian government and international donors.

Manila has said new structures in the typhoon-prone areas must be able to withstand winds of 300kph (186 mph), close to Haiyan's maximum winds when it slammed into Eastern Samar province before crossing the central Philippines.

Mr Sonny Rosal, head of the United Architects of the Philippines which is helping the National Housing Authority (NHA) design stronger houses, said there were challenges related to government buy-outs of landowners in risky areas, reestablishing title and revising the national building code which now specifies that public structures must withstand winds of only up to 250kph.

"What is being discussed now in the NHA is that it may take us 10 years to be able to rebuild. It's not that easy. A lot is involved here," Mr Rosal said. "It's like building a new country."

On Wednesday, a government task force assigned to draw up a recovery and rehabilitation plan submitted its immediate, medium-term and long-term goals to Mr Aquino, who demanded more specific details before giving final approval. The task force will report back to Mr Aquino on Friday with more refinements.

That plan will likely identify only immediate needs and plans of action, since a longer-term rebuilding strategy will take weeks if not months to complete, officials said.

In Japan's case, it completed its long-term reconstruction plan six months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

"This case (Haiyan) is much more complex than the Japanese experience. The Japanese experienced only a tsunami," said Mr Kimio Takeya, an engineer and expert for reconstruction planning at the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

"In this area, there was a storm surge and strong wind combination."

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