After the Storm

Building resilience in the aftermath of disaster

Mother Nature can be a cruel lover—and few have seen her wrath like the islanders of the Federated States of Micronesia, whose tropical paradise becomes, in the harshest times, a scene of devastation and death.

That’s what happened three years ago, in the spring of 2015, when Tropical Storm Maysak raged down from the northwestern Pacific Ocean. Maysak quickly turned into a typhoon —a storm characterized by devastating winds of lethal velocity—and then tore remorselessly through the islands, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. The states of Chuuk and Yap bore the brunt of the impact.

Four deaths and 10 injuries were reported. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Maysak directly impacted nearly 50 per cent of the population in the affected areas. The typhoon devastated agricultural production—with 90 per cent of the banana, breadfruit, and taro crops destroyed.

IOM’s approach allowed community members to repair their own homes and participate in infrastructure activities. IOM technical teams mobilized and trained over 1,600 community workers in best practices and safety standards in construction across both Chuuk and Yap State.

These pictures offer a glimpse into the aftermath of the disaster, and the communities' first steps towards a more resilient future.

Prior to training, many workers didn’t know how to read a blueprint or use a tape measure. IOM’s project enabled residents to learn valuable skills and take ownership of their communities. This support of local economies brought financial resources back into affected areas.

Detora (pictured) lives on the main island of Chuuk, in her newly reconstructed home with her husband and six children. She has lived on the small island her whole life and has seen her share of powerful storms and typhoons.

When Maysak hit the island of 6,000, it destroyed hundreds of homes across Chuuk State, including hers. Detora remembers the torn roofing, plates and cooking sets scattered everywhere. Luckily, no one in her family was hurt. But everything else that she owned was lost.

Following the disaster, IOM’s reconstruction efforts helped thousands of Micronesians, like Detora, to build new homes. Families with major or minor damage to their homes received vouchers to purchase materials. For homes destroyed by the typhoon, families received a new house. In total, IOM issued 1,167 vouchers totaling over USD 2.5 million and constructed 422 homes through Chuuk and Yap States. These homes allow families to be reunited under one roof after being displaced by Typhoon Maysak.

Today, Detora's family lives in a home that is sturdier than the one they lost. Looking back, Detora says that she had always wanted to renovate her old home with her husband. She just never expected a typhoon to be the act of divine intervention to make it happen.

Pasie is a foreman living on Federai, a remote outer island of Yap. Today, he is part of the construction crew rebuilding other public infrastructure on his island. To date, IOM has completed 145 public infrastructure projects throughout Chuuk and Yap including schools, municipal buildings, community homes and dispensaries. Another eight construction projects are ongoing.

Construction is underway for a boarding school on Falalop.

Construction is underway for a boarding school on Falalop.

A massive barge loads up with raw construction materials on the remote outer island of Falalop.

A massive barge loads up with raw construction materials on the remote outer island of Falalop.

Federai is one of the most remote islands of the Ulithi Atoll in Yap, FSM. Comprised of roughly 40 islets that cover an area of 4.5 square kilometres, Typhoon Maysak heavily damaged the atoll in 2015.

Given the isolated nature of the communities affected by the typhoon, IOM has moved thousands of metric tons of materials to support reconstruction efforts. Many of the islands are surrounded by shallow reefs, which requires the use of smaller watercraft and therefore smaller loads of material.

Merlyn lives with her extended family in their home along the waterfront of the main island of Chuuk. The family’s ancestry extends several generations back. She explains the long familial ties to the land are among the reasons why they chose to stay after Maysak ripped through the area and severely damaged her home. “I remember it getting so bad that day many of us ran and took shelter at the mayor’s house which was just up the road,” she recalled.

When the storm passed there was not much left of her home. Despite the loss, Merlyn joined hundreds of others in Chuuk, working with members of the community to rebuild her home and many others as a joint community effort.

Within two months, the family moved into their new home, now better than before. Merlyn hopes her family will continue to live in their home for generations to come.

Bercy is the principal of an elementary school on the small island of Udot, within the Chuuk Lagoon. Maysak caused heavy damage on the island.

Since then, IOM has been involved in rebuilding a number of public buildings — including the library at Bercy’s school where all of the children's textbooks are stored.

A teacher asks her class to name known disasters in an elementary classroom in Pohnpei, FSM.

IOM has worked with the Ministry of Education in Palau, the Department of Education in Micronesia, and the public school system in the Marshall Islands to ensure that students have an understanding of the various natural disasters that affect small Pacific Islands, by incorporating climate change adaptation and disaster reduction into the national curricula.

“The history of the Pacific is one of migration. Mobility has been driven by a search for greener pastures, access to education, health and employment. But one underlying feature that has always shaped these movements has been the surrounding natural environment,” said IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Nenette Motus at a recent event in Fiji.

Diverse mobility patterns have emerged in the Pacific. They include evacuations and displacement in the context of sudden-onset disasters and pre-emptive migration or planned relocation in the face of slow-onset processes or recurrent sudden-onset events that have affected people over a long period of time.

Coastal erosion and rising sea levels have affected the region in ways that can’t be overlooked. As young adults and older locals look around to see more water where there used to be solid ground, the reality sets in.

IOM has been spearheading initiatives across the FSM to slow the effects of coastal erosion, including the construction of seawalls to attenuate the crushing tides. The organization has also been involved in reinforcing infrastructure to better withstand the effects of climate change on the region’s coastlines.

Rebuilding more solid homes for Micronesians who lost theirs during Typhoon Maysak fits those efforts.

In February 2018, IOM, in collaboration with the Platform on Disaster Displacement, organized a regional capacity building workshop for Pacific Island States, offering policymakers an environment in which to strengthen their understanding of key issues around human mobility in the context of disasters and climate change.

For more information about IOM's work on the links between climate change, environment and migration visit: www.environmentalmigration.iom.int

Click here to learn more about IOM's activities in Micronesia: www.iom.int/countries/federated-states-micronesia