By Cecil Morella
MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines launched an $8.17 billion plan on Wednesday to rebuild the lives of millions made homeless by Super Typhoon Haiyan and strengthen the disaster-prone nation’s defenses against future tempests.
A day after the nation ended its 40-day mourning period for thousands of typhoon dead, President Benigno Aquino appealed for more foreign aid and private-sector pledges to revive hundreds of devastated communities.
“The task immediately before us lies in ensuring that the communities that rise again do so stronger, better and more resilient than before,” he told foreign diplomats and aid officials in a speech at the launch of the initiative.
“We know that it is more efficient to prioritize resilience now, rather than to keep rebuilding,” he said, in a nod to the country’s location as the frontline state for Pacific storms and typhoons.
Haiyan left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing after winds of up 315 kilometers (195 miles) per hour struck an area described by the United Nations as about the size of Portugal in the central islands on November 8.
Giant tsunami-like waves created by storm surges as well as the ferocious winds wrecked 1.2 million houses, displacing 4.4 million people in some of the country’s poorest regions, according to a recovery plan released by the economic planning department.
With nearly six million jobs lost, Haiyan may also trim economic growth by 0.3 percentage points this year and next, according to the document.
Aquino said the typhoon, one of the strongest ever to hit land and already the second-deadliest natural disaster in the history of the Philippines, caused $12.9 billion in damage and destruction.
In terms of fatalities it is now second only to a tsunami which hit the major southern island of Mindanao and left between 5,000 and 8,000 people dead following a major undersea quake in 1976.
US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the typhoon-devastated central city of Tacloban on Wednesday, expressing shock at what he called “stunning” devastation.
The economic planning department said the rehabilitation plan calls for spending 360.9 billion pesos ($8.17 billion) over a four-year-period until 2017.
The government is allocating a total of 125.1 billion pesos for the effort, with the spending spread over this year and next, an expense that it said was “expected to impact on the fiscal deficit in the next two or three years”.
Foreign and local donors as well as the private sector are being asked to help, the plan said, but no breakdown was given.
“Every dollar of funding assistance will be used in as efficient and as lasting a manner as possible,” Aquino pledged Wednesday.
In his speech he thanked the global community for the outpouring of support for typhoon victims but stressed there is still much more to do.
“Your help is all the more necessary today, because in confronting the escalating effects of climate change, the resources of countries like the Philippines will be strained to the limit,” he said.
He said the plan involves meeting immediate as well longer-term needs as devastated communities try to return to normal, with food aid expected to be needed until March next year at the latest.
“From now until December 2014 we will be preoccupied with critical immediate investments such as the rebuilding and repair of infrastructure and the construction of temporary houses,” he said.
“Large investments will be spread over multiple years and will hopefully be completed by 2017 if not earlier.”
Apart from the physical rebuilding, the plan involves creating new jobs, aid to vulnerable workers in agriculture and the service sectors, and funds to deal with health, social and environmental issues.
The United Nations this week launched a $791 million aid appeal to take care of the survivors’ needs over the next 12 months, an amount that UN spokesmen said will complement the government’s rehabilitation plan.