The race is on to salvage a 'golden trough' of typhoon felled trees across the Central Philippines

28 Jan 2014

imageMakeshift lumber shops are popping up already across the devastated city of Tacloban, the region’s economic hub, which was largely flattened by the Typhoon. Photo: UNDP Philippines

ManilaThe race is on to salvage valuable wood from millions of typhoon felled coconut trees in the central Philippines. Experts believe that salvaged coco lumber could be used for urgently needed temporary shelters, as the Yolanda (Haiyan) super storm left four million people displaced, just over two months ago in the Visayas region. It also killed thousands and devastated livelihoods across nine of the Philippines’ poorest provinces. If stored correctly, the lumber could also prove a potent way of securing thousands of livelihoods. But, time is running out as the trees need to be recovered before May 2014, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Typhoon Yolanda, with its 300 kilometer winds, felled or damaged more than 32 million coconut trees, says Yuri Afanasiev, the UNDP Senior Recovery Coordinator in the Philippines. UNDP and its partners understand the immediate benefit of using these trees to meet critical shelter needs, Mr. Afanasiev says. But, the trees are also potentially “a golden trough of materials that an emerging group of small wood processing business can use to secure the livelihoods of thousands of families over the next five years,” he says.

Downed coconut trees have only a six-month lifespan before rot and insects set in, which means the trunks must be recovered by May 2014 at the latest, says Mr. Afanasiev. “The challenges now is working out how to firstly get the lumber out of the plantations and then properly treat and store it so that new businesses can use it over the coming years to produce marketable products, like utensils, furnishings and furniture, for example,” he says.

This kind of production from coco lumber would herald an expansion of the limited livelihood opportunities in the area. Before the storm, these were largely focused on subsistence agriculture and fisheries.  Diversifying livelihoods is seen as a way of boosting peoples’ incomes and their resilience against future shocks.  

UNDP is working with local farmers, land owners and the government (under the Philippine Coconut Authority) to start salvaging the lumber.  The organization is set to employ thousands of typhoon-affected people to haul coco trunks out of the plantations for processing at ten mobile sawmills.

Under the scheme, people will be paid a wage in-line with government policy and will work for at least 15 days. They will join the 25,000 people who are already working under various UNDP emergency employment schemes across the affected areas, mainly clearing mountains of debris left by the super storm.  

“Between 25 and 30 percent of the timber recovered by UNDP will go directly to shelter as this is a top concern of many hard hit areas,” says Mr. Afanasiev. “The rest of the timber will be stored for future use by an emerging wood processing industry,” he says. Residue from processing the lumber can go into biofuel in the form of pellets, chips or briquettes, as well as be used in organic fertilizer. Leaves can be used for roofing and thatching, as well as in weaving production.