TACLOBAN, Philippines - Six months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, Tacloban is starting to look like a city once more.
Apart from clusters of muddied, sad-looking tents spread along a road from the airport and the rusting hulks of half-a-dozen ships swept ashore, most of the iconic, moving images of the typhoon's wrath are gone.
The sprawling sea of debris that blanketed Tacloban after Haiyan hit the central Philippines on Nov 8 last year, leaving at least 6,200 dead and four million displaced, has been cleared.
The streets are lit at night and are busy with traffic. Hospitals, hotels, malls and restaurants have reopened their doors.
The dead have been buried and the living are going about their business. But dig deeper, and there is still a palpable sense of despair among the people. No longer for food or water, but for houses and jobs. They want their dignity back.
As aid agencies begin scaling down their operations, residents are becoming desperate for employment and permanent shelter, without which, their road to normalcy will be hard.
The focus for aid agencies has shifted from relief to early recovery, which means ending the blanket distribution of relief goods.
Last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stopped distributing food in Samar, one of the provinces that bore the brunt of Haiyan's fury, and the World Food Programme may be gone next month.
Those who have been relying on relief goods over the past six months have felt the change.
"Till January, the relief goods were arriving regularly. Now, they come just once a month," said Ms Jesusa Daaco, 44, a laundrywoman.
For Tacloban Vice-Mayor Sambo Yaokasin, scaling down on relief distribution should help to heave the local population out of the tents and into the workplace.
"We wouldn't want to encourage them into thinking that it's easier to queue for three hours for relief than working for eight hours at an office," he said.
Tacloban's residents are prepared: They, too, seek a life that is self-reliant.
Ms Susan Niones, 48, a vendor who lives in a temporary shelter in Sagkahan district says she is under no illusion that the stream of free food and water will go on forever. "We can't always rely on relief. What if it runs out? We'll have nothing," she said.
Ms Joan Olayol, 38, a housewife, agrees. "I really want a job. I don't want relief. My husband doesn't have a job. I have three children, and I'm pregnant. So, what my husband and I really need is a job," she said.
It is a common refrain you will hear in Tacloban: We want jobs.
But the local government does not have the budget for more employees and the national government does not have any comprehensive re-employment programme, other than holding job fairs and distributing fishing boats that displaced fishermen can use.
It has largely relinquished that responsibility to organisations like the ICRC, which has been giving cash and non-cash grants and livelihood training to some 30,000 households.
The businessmen of Tacloban are feeling neglected.
"To be honest, there is so much help for the poor, but only a few are helping the business sector. Yet, it's the business sector that will turn around the economy of the city, and create jobs," said Mr Yaokasin, the vice-mayor, whose family owns a car dealership and two petrol stations.
Mr Edwin Manas, who was the first to reopen his restaurant in Tacloban post-Haiyan, said the government should consider giving businessmen whose establishments suffered losses in the typhoon aftermath at least a year's worth of tax breaks and access to credit.
Banks are not giving credit because the assets that serve as collateral have fallen in value, he said. Property values in Tacloban, for instance, have fallen by 50 per cent since the typhoon hit.
Oxfam policy adviser Caroline Baudot says the government has to do more to ease the gridlock.
"It's not only about putting the fishers back into the sea," she said, of the government's programme to offer fishing boats.
Ms Baudot says debris on the seabed is preventing fish from reproducing. "The bay has to be cleared first," she said. "And this is not happening."
Housing is the other worry for those who lost their homes in the disaster. Said vendor Vicky Delingon, 55, from Anibong district: "We want a house. We're still living under a tarpaulin. When the rain is heavy, it leaks."
This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.
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