Typhoon Bopha’s terrible blow to Philippine seaweed farmers

Climate Change, Disasters, Emergencies, Humanitarian

Typhoon Bopha (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Pablo) has devastated the seaweed farmers of Hinatuan, who were only just starting to recover from 2011’s Typhoon Washi (local name Sedong). Dante Dalajaban draws a parallel with the recent knockout of celebrated Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.

“Our preparation proved to be no match against Bopha.”

In one devastating blow, Typhoon Bopha flattened the thriving seaweed industry of Hinatuan town in Surigao del Sur.

For Barangay Captain Leonor Dinagay of Barangay Loyola, it was a foul and sneaky blow. He says:

“It was not supposed to be this bad if we go by the forecasts. We evacuated nevertheless. We sunk our seaweed to keep it safe. At least with Washi, we knew how bad it was going to be. Our preparation proved to be no match against Bopha.” 

The parallel between Typhoon Bopha and the Pacquiao-Marquez fight is irresistible. About the same time last year, Typhoon Washi (known locally as Sedong) ravaged the seaweed farms of Hinatuan.  

Manny Pacquiao dramatically knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez. Credit: Getty

But they withstood the assault and, with the help of Center for Empowerment and Resource Development (CERD) an NGO that helps the fisherfolk and seaweed farmers in Surigao del Sur, they fought back gallantly and recovered. 

Until another walloping punch hit them again, this time in the chin.

CERD estimates the damage of Typhoon Bopha to seaweed farms to be over 5.8 million pesos, a paltry sum considering the overall toll of Typhoon Bopha, but it means terrible misery to the 303 seaweed farmers who depend on seaweed for sustenance.

“I had everything all figured out. That was until Bopha hit. Now I don’t know where we go from here.”

For Teresa Mainit, a 39 year old mother from Barangay Tidman, Typhoon Bopha trampled upon her best laid plans. She was expecting to harvest twenty thousand pesos worth of seaweeds by January, enough to cover the tuition fees of her daughter Novy who is now in her second year of college, studying for an education degree and to pay off her debts.  

“I had everything all figured out. That was until Bopha hit. Now I don’t know where we go from here,” says Teresa with a cracking voice.

When I visited the hardest hit areas in Hinatuan, it seemed to me that every seaweed farmer in Hinatuan is scrambling to piece together whatever is left, including Tonton, a 10-year-old son of a seaweed farmer in Maowa Island in Barangay Aquino, whom I saw in the middle of the sea trying to salvage every sapling he could find in order to rebuild his family’s livelihood.

In the four villages I went to, I asked the people how they get by in the wake of Typhoon Bopha. “By gleaning seashells,” says Felicitas Rodilla of Barangay Tidman, “and every rice we are able to procure we make into porridge to make ends meet.”  But for how long, nobody has the answer.

I also asked them if would still be willing to plant seaweed after they have been knocked down twice over.  “This is the only life we know,” says Romeo Yurong, a 43-year-old father of five from Maowa Island who was able to complete the college education of her two children by toiling in the seaweed farms for years.  “Give us something to survive for another month and we will,” adds Romeo.

Unlike the fallen prizefighter hero Pacquiao, quitting, for people in Hinatuan, is not an option.

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Main picture: Tonton, a 10 year old boy from Sitio Maoa, Brgy Aquino, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, lost his family’s house and its entire seaweed farm. Credit: Dante Dalajaban/Oxfam

Author: Dante Dalabajan
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.