By Afrhill Rances, IFRC, in Manila
Almost a week on from the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the Philippine island of Bohol, thousands of people fear returning to their homes because of the continuing aftershocks. Over 30,000 homes are reported to have been damaged by the quake and more than 100,000 people are staying in temporary evacuation centres. The extent of humanitarian needs is expected to increase as responders reach some of the hardest hit and more remote towns that have been difficult to reach because of damage to roads and bridges.
Basilisa Mahumot, 67, who was born and raised in Bohol, cannot believe that she has experienced such a tragedy in her lifetime. As soon as she felt the strong tremors, she took her grandchildren and rushed outside their house.
“In just a snap, everything collapsed and people were panicking. No one knew what to do,” she narrates, teary-eyed. “I am thankful that I was with my grandchildren when it happened, if not, they would now be trapped in the rubble like so many others,” she says.
Basilisa’s village in Loon town is one of the hardest hit areas in the province of Bohol, which is located in Central Visayas, which is known for its pristine beaches and calm water. The earthquake that struck early last Tuesday morning has impacted the island’s tourism industry with normally attracts people to see its centuries-old churches and scenic spots, many of which are now damaged or in ruins.
Several aftershocks, including one of magnitude 4.5 recorded last Thursday morning, are creating fear among the residents, adding to the trauma they have already endured. The normally vibrant and lively island, usually packed with tourists, now seems like a ghost town with abandoned houses, closed businesses and non-functioning markets.
Since the earthquake struck, the Cebu and Bohol chapters of the Philippine Red Cross together with support from the Red Cross national headquarters in Manila have been providing emergency assistance to affected communities.
“Rapid assessments by our volunteers and staff, who have been able to reach some of the isolated areas, indicate massive needs on the ground, which no single agency can address alone. Based on the information we have gathered, food, water, emergency shelter and essential household items are the priority needs,” says Richard Gordon, Chairman of Philippine Red Cross. “The collective response must match the needs.”
So far, the Red Cross has served hot meals to 4,000 people and distributed food packages to at least 1,500. Relief supplies dispatched from Manila arrived in Bohol on Friday and are currently being distributed to affected families. Additional supplies are being shipped to Bohol to boost the ongoing relief effort.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has advanced 500,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to enable the Philippine Red Cross to deliver urgent assistance to 10,000 families in the hardest hit towns and villages of Bohol.
“These funds will help us to continue to provide relief, but only to a fraction of those in need,” Gordon explains.
The DREF operation will focus on meeting the immediate needs of the affected, including distributions of non-food items (blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and hygiene kits), emergency shelter assistance (tarpaulins), health and hygiene promotion, psychosocial support, support to health facilities and distribution of safe water. The IFRC will launch an emergency appeal in the coming days, allowing the Philippine Red Cross to scale up its response.
“We must not only address immediate needs of the quake-affected families, but also do everything to help them recover with dignity,” Gordon concludes.