126 houses built for Typhoon stopped for redesign; UN aid Agencies criticized Philippine government for its 9 sqm size per room – Intl Standard is 20

President Benigno S. Aquino III with Rep. Ferdinand Martin Rumualdez (L), Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Governor Dominic Petilla (R) inspect bunkhouse units Sunday (December 22). Marcelino Pascua/Presidential Communications Operations Office

'Cramped' houses row over Philippine typhoon survivors

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International aid agencies have criticized a Philippine government plan to move homeless survivors of the country's deadliest typhoon into "cramped" temporary shelters, officials said Wednesday.

The issue has disrupted the Super Typhoon Haiyan rehabilitation effort as the government halted further construction of bunkhouses so they could be redesigned, they said.

"There were some concerns that it (the room assigned to each family) was too cramped," President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

The typhoon left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing on November 8 as it laid waste to an area the size of Portugal, wrecking about 1.2 million homes.

Aquino has said it may take the Philippines four years to rebuild from the disaster, much of the destruction wrought by giant waves unleashed by the massive storm that obliterated coastal communities.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said the concerns were aired by members of United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations working primarily with a "cluster" of government institutions to address Haiyan survivors' shelter needs.

"They told us the rooms that we made were too small," Singson said after meeting with the "shelter" cluster on Tuesday.

A total of 126 buildings have so far been built out of a planned 222. The temporary shelters will house families now living in tents as the government identifies sites where they can safely relocate later, Singson said.

Each of the current bunkhouses, which cost 836,000 pesos ($18,660) to build, is made up of 24 rooms measuring 8.64 square metres (93 square feet), he said in an interview broadcast by Manila television network ABS-CBN.

Singson said he explained to the humanitarian agencies that it was not the government's intention to cram large families into a single tiny room.

But heeding the aid agencies' concerns, the government will now build bunkhouses designed for 12 families each, Singson said, giving them twice the space.

The bunkhouses as well as permanent relocation sites are funded by the government, he said.

The aid agencies' shelter assistance is limited to providing tents and construction tool kits to the displaced, Singson added.

Officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who are assigned to the disaster zone, declined to comment when contacted by AFP on Wednesday.

Singson said not all the displaced survivors would be put in bunkhouses.

Others have opted to accept construction materials from the government so they could rebuild their homes on their own, he said

Palace on bunkhouse mess: We don't need to follow int'l standards

Saying the country has its own standards; Malacañang on Wednesday denied that the bunkhouses being built for the survivors of Super Typhoon "Yolanda" were subpar and not suitable shelters for the families to be accommodated.

At a televised press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he was told by Public Works and Highways Sec. Rogelio Singson that the bunkhouses were not in violation of the Philippine building code.

"We are following our own standards. We don't necessarily have to follow international standards. But because our concern is safety, our concern is they should not be congested," Lacierda said.

The Palace official said international standards require a bunkhouse unit size to be 20 square meters. When asked by the media on what the government's standards are, Lacierda also said "safety."

"Our concern is for your safety and our concern is that you will not be placed in a cramped space," he said.

On Monday, Singson said the bunkhouses were originally designed to have 24 room units that will each accommodate one family.

But after international agencies commented that one room unit is too tight, Singson said the bunkhouses were reconfigured to have 12 room units.

He said one family can now occupy not just 8.64 square meters, but 17.28 square meters in the redesigned bunkhouses.

"[T]hat is already acceptable to international standards because, I understand, the international standard for temporary shelter is about three square meters per person," Singson said at a televised press briefing in Malacañang.

Asked by the media if there was a compromise of international standards because of the urgent need to build the bunkhouses, Lacierda said "These are just temporary shelters."

"Please note that these are temporary bunkhouses. We are moving towards [building] permanent shelters," he said.

Lacierda, also assured that the bunkhouses were designed to be humane, saying larger families will not be made to live in a small unit.

"If you're a family of more than five, you cannot be squeezed into one unit of that 12-family bunkhouse. You have to be given two," he said.

"They're people (typhoon survivors). We are taking care of them. Their concern is our concern," Lacierda added. – AFP/ philSTAR

 

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