An Austrian school economist visits Tacloban

When we landed at Tacloban airport just before New Year’s Day, the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda to the locals) was everywhere. Most of the walls of the airport were missing but the supporting beams survived and there was a make-shift roof. We drove for an hour before the damage was no more than lost roofs.Image

At the airport, there were no barriers between the departure area and the tarmac.

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A little known use of those lost walls was stopping the jet engines blasting into the waiting lounge. No photo because I was too busy running.

The Tacloban airport is named after an uncle of Imelda Marcos. The city mayor is her nephew; you may have seen him on CNN. Other relatives of Imelda on the island of Leyte have been congressmen, provincial governors or town mayors in a dynasty that rotates between offices because of term limits.

The café next to the airport where I had breakfast when I was last in Tacloban in January 2012 was washed away, sadly along with its owner.

I remember reading the local newspapers in that café in January 2012. A feature story was about the private armies employed by local politicians. These private armies could be 40 strong. Cronyism and a lack of a rule of law could explain why Leyte is among the poorest islands in the Philippines.

All the surrounding restaurants were wiped out. But the food vendors are back at the airport – the entrepreneurial spirit is very resilient! Tacloban airport was one of the few places where I could get diet coke in all of Leyte.

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The only upside of the typhoon was Imelda’s large sea-side walled compound was washed away. There is a god: a vengeful god!?

We dropped in on a friend on the way to my parents-in-law. He had lost power. He said that straight after the typhoon, entrepreneurs were going door to door selling bottled water.

By the time we had arrived, everyone on the island of Leyte had received five-weekly rations of five kilos of rice and other essentials from the town hall. My mother-in-law had no need for this ration so she gave it to less well-off neighbours. Her town was not damaged much at all by the typhoon. They are on the other side of the mountain from Tacloban.

My in-laws living on an island further north of Leyte lost their roof and a wall. Terrifying.

Local merchants must find it hard to rebuild their businesses when everyone is getting food for free from the town hall many weeks after the disaster. This includes areas that suffered little damage.

The consular travel warning for all of Leyte was very ‘high risk’ – one below ‘avoid all travel’. Advised to be self-sufficient and be on guard for bandits, etc.

The owners of a very nice 5-room chalet at the other end of Leyte where my sister-in-law and her family stayed were most unimpressed by the over-inclusive consular travel warnings.There were many cancellations so their business was just ticking over rather than in a profit. Little wonder that the girl behind the makeshift car rental desk in the arrivals lounge at Tacloban airport did not seem to get much business when we arrived.

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