By Afrhill Rances in Manila
Of the 19 tropical cyclones that entered the Philippines’ territory in 2011, 10 of them brought significant destruction. Among them was Typhoon Nesat, which hit during the last week of September, and was immediately followed by Typhoon Nalgae, during the first week of October. The typhoons followed the same path and resulted in massive flooding in the Central and Northern Luzon Island.
These typhoons killed more than a hundred people and affected nearly 4 million people, with 2.5 million of them living in Central Luzon alone. The damage caused by the disaster amounted to PHP 15 billion (CHF 320 million), exceeding that of Ketsana in 2009, according to authorities. Residents in the most affected areas would say Nesat and Nalgae brought the worst flooding in decades, instantly creating an inland sea in the communities.
A year later, many of the affected residents are still in dire need of assistance. 62-year-old Rosita Alerio has been in an evacuation center in Navotas for a year. “At my age, it’s not easy to stay in a place like this for such a long time,” she says.
Rosita, who relies on her children and grandchildren for support, recalls how she escaped the fury of the typhoon on the shores of Manila Bay. “I was sick, so my children had a hard time to bring me to the nearest evacuation centre,” she says.
She and her neighbours had to flee their homes due to waves that washed away their houses. In Navotas, some 200 families still crowd into three separate basketball courts. They have also been depending on relief support. “It had been very difficult. We had been on our own, helplessly struggling to put things back together.”.
Meanwhile, Rosita and the other evacuees are waiting to be relocated. “That is the only thing we have been waiting for, as soon as we move out of this place, I know there’s still hope waiting for us,” she says.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an appeal to support Philippine Red Cross in relief and recovery operations. Three months after the typhoon, 25,000 families had been assisted with food packages while 15,000 others received water storage containers, blankets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets. An additional 18,000 others received hygiene kits.
One year on, intervention now focuses on the early recovery phase. The emergency appeal aims to provide transitional shelter to 900 families whose houses were destroyed by the storm. As yet, only 200 families have been identified to benefit from shelter assistance as the appeal is significantly underfunded.
Selvaratnam Sinnadurai, IFRC country representative for the Philippines, says it is important to make sure families return to homes able to withstand further flooding. “Although majority of the families whose houses were damaged or destroyed managed to repair and salvage materials from their old house, these can be structurally weak, hence exposing them to the hazards should a new typhoon come.”
Remedios Mendoza, 67, now lives comfortably inside her new house in Aurora province, is one of the beneficiaries who transferred to the newly-built shelter provided by the Philippine Red Cross. Construction of houses is ongoing in Aurora, Ifugao and Quirino provinces. “After a year, we can now sleep peacefully without fearing another storm to wash our house away. It had been a long wait but there’s so much relief when we transferred here,” she says.
In meeting the needs of families whose income-generating activities have been severely impacted by the typhoons, the Red Cross is also providing early recovery assistance through cash grants provision amounting to PHP 10,000 (approximately CHF 230). Some 2,100 beneficiaries have been provided with the grants, owing to the appeal income to date. Remedios made use of the cash grant she received by putting up a sundry store. “My husband used to do fishing, he had been sick since the typhoons so I chose to be by his side and take charge of our small store here in the village.”
Although it seemed that situation and life have returned back to normal in areas that were affected by the twin typhoons, they need to prepare for the future. “Further funding is encouraged from our partners. The typhoon season is here again, and we cannot neglect the fact that these already battered populations would suffer from another major storm,” Selvaratnam Sinnadurai says.