Uncertain future looms for Filipino survivors restarting lives 6 months after Typhoon Haiyan

Six months after the strongest typhoon to hit land killed his mother and tore down much of their house in the eastern Philippines, Sofronio Cervantes wants to return home — if only he can scrape together the money to rebuild his life once he gets there.

Like thousands of others, the 38-year-old farmer fled the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan to Manila, the capital. But after a fruitless search for work and surviving on the charity of his wife's relatives, Cervantes says it is now time to go back to his village, where his father lives in what remains of their house — a tarpaulin roof strung between two broken walls.

"I want to restart our lives there," he said while visiting the Social Welfare Department, where he managed to get a cash handout of 2,800 pesos, or $60, to cover the bus fare for his wife, 1-year-old son and himself back to his home province of Leyte. "What will I do here? It is better for us to go home."

There are signs of progress since the monster storm slammed into the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving more than 7,300 dead or missing and flattening hundreds of thousands of homes and other structures. Many survivors have started rebuilding and debris is slowly being cleaned up and carted away.

But enormous work remains. As of the end of April, more than 2 million people are living without adequate shelter, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Access to water and sanitation also remains a challenge.

"We know that recovery will be a long road," said Marcel Fortier of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "I can tell you based on our experience, after three years, there would still be a lot of needs that will not be covered."

Recovery efforts have been stymied by government bureaucracy, said Panfilo Lacson, a former senator who heads the government's rehabilitation team.

The rebuilding master plan that includes input from local government officials has yet to be reviewed by Cabinet officials and presented to President Benigno Aquino III for approval, he said. Lacson also said he doesn't have full authority to make decisions, implement plans and disburse funds, unlike the official put in charge of rebuilding after the massive 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

"I am really frustrated," Lacson said. "It is difficult to coordinate but not have the implementing authority."

He was relieved, however, that there had been epidemics or breakdown in law in order in the disaster zone, and noted that it took eight years for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. to fully recover.

Reconstruction from the Haiyan disaster will cost 104 billion pesos, or $2.35 billion, the government estimates.

So far, $763 million in foreign aid has been pledged for rebuilding, and the government has received about half of that. These funds are apart from the millions of dollars in food and other emergency aid that was distributed directly by aid groups shortly after the typhoon.

Of the 200,000 homes destroyed or located in areas now deemed unsafe, the government has completed just 130 housing units, with nearly 15,000 units in the works. Out of 18,456 classrooms that need to be repaired and rebuilt, 51 units have been completed while 165 others are still being constructed.

More than 5,000 people still live in evacuation centers and tent cities, while nearly 20,000 more live in bunkhouses that serve as transitional shelter.

"With the next rainy and typhoon season beginning in June, greater progress on the shelter shortage is urgently required," a U.N. OCHA report said. "As people are exposed to the elements in many areas, the risk of the situation translating into deteriorating public health or a new humanitarian crisis is heightened."

Finding land to build houses that need to be relocated is emerging as a major issue. To date, land is available for only a little over a tenth of the total housing units that need to be built. Lacson said he has proposed that Aquino issue an order allowing the use of public lands for resettlement and allocation of funds to buy private land.

Cervantes said he plans to repair their home, farm his father's land and to maybe start a small business to help them get by. But so far, except for the bus fare he got, his efforts asking at government agencies have come to nothing.

"It's like begging," he said, his eyes glistening. "You are a victim already, but you feel like you become a victim all over again."