Climate and disaster resilience for Surigao IPs: Construction begins in shelter project for Sama Bajaus

“Walang natira sa amin.” (We’re left with nothing)

This is how Elsa Sapayani recalled her family’s experience when Typhoon Odette hit Surigao City in December 2021. Like many Sama Bajau families in the city, their shelter stands on stilts on the coastal waters of Barangay Canlanipa. Made of light materials like bamboo, old tarpaulin posters, and weaved nipa, Elsa’s house was completely destroyed leaving her family of eight children homeless.

“We would evacuate. Strong winds destroy our walls and roof. After strong typhoons, we had to rebuild our houses from scratch,” Elsa said in her native tongue when asked about what usually happens when experiencing intense storms.

This is about to change as the construction phase of a shelter project for Sama Bajau families affected by Typhoon Odette officially commenced on June 19. Implemented by UN-Habitat Philippines, the Huy-anan nan Bajau sa Surigao (Homes for the Bajaus in Surigao) Project has initiated a rigorous selection process and identified an initial list of 28 families who will benefit from the project.

With these new permanent shelters, Sama Bajau families are expected to be more resilient in times of typhoons and able to rebuild their homes in case of minor damages. It will also protect the community, especially women and children, from climate challenges like extreme heat and increasing rainfall.

Formally tagged as Supporting Blue-Green Recovery, Strengthening Resilience, and Promoting Sustainable Growth in Philippine Cities and Communities through Nature-Based Solutions and Circular Economy, the project is funded by the Government of Spain through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). Government partners for the project include the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Provincial Government of Surigao del Norte, and the City Government of Surigao.

Given the Sama Bajaus’ cultural identity as a sea-based indigenous community, the resettlement site will retain the unique feature of being built above the sea on stilts situated along the coastal waters, this time in Barangay Lipata, Surigao City. This will ensure resilient community-based solutions, provide accessible open public spaces, integrate circular economy principles, and incorporate culturally sensitive design in the rebuilding process.

Aside from building homes and providing livelihood opportunities for the Sama Bajau community, Huy-anan nan Bajau sa Surigao project also aims to strengthen the capacities of the government in providing support to vulnerable populations displaced by disasters and extreme climate events.

Earlier in March, the project’s government partners and the Sama Bajau community initiated a ritual and groundbreaking ceremony in the identified resettlement area for the Sama Bajau, a 2.13 hectares portion of Surigao City and DENR’s proposed Ecovillage development in Barangay Lipata.

UN-Habitat Philippines Country Programme Manager Christoper Rollo, Surigao Del Norte Governor Robert Lyndon Barbers, Surigao City Mayor Pablo Yves Dumlao II, and officials from various regional offices government agencies participated and expressed support in the event held on March 21.

Alongside the groundbreaking ceremony, officials of the Sama Bajau Magdakayo Homeowners Association, Inc. took oath after being formally organized through the support of the DHSUD – Region XIII. Officers from the association mobilized community members to volunteer and help jumpstart the construction phase that began in the third week of June.

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