Red Cross staff accompanied by a Cagayan de Oro chapter volunteer take a boat ride to reach the houses of affected residents living in danger zones in a barangay (village) in Cagayan de Oro. Photo: Mollie Godinez/Philippine Red Cross
By Afrhill Rances and Ina Silverio in Manila
Three months after Tropical Storm Washi hit the northern coast of Mindanao island, the two hardest hit provinces of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are slowly getting back on their feet. However, streets are still scattered with debris from damaged or destoyed houses.
The Philippine Red Cross has been supporting thousands of families since the storm hit the island in late December. With support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and with funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) the Red Cross has reached 15,000 families with food and other relief items, provided hygiene kits and hygiene promotion sessions for 15,000 families, and has distributed mosquito nets to 5,000 families.
Red Cross volunteers will soon distribute food to a furter 15,000 storm survivors, and will continue to provide clean drinking water for those still displaced by the storm. However, the focus now is shifting towards supporting families to rebuild their ruined homes by providing them with the tools and skills necessary to repair damage.
Peter Lacarte is receiving Red Cross support to repair the house that he and his family fled on the night that Washi hit. Like thousands of other families, they sought refuge at a local school. But this arrangement only lasted for three weeks before the school year started in early January. They then had no choice but to live in a tent borrowed from a friend.
“We find it difficult to recover, it’s been three months, and yet we cannot live our normal lives,” Peter said. He and his brother Pablo both received repair kits from the Red Cross. “As soon as we finish repairing this house, he (Pablo) will also help me repair mine. We even lost our livelihood, so the repair kits provided by the Red Cross are really of big help.”
Genevieve Amodia, the Red Cross chapter administrator in Iligan, says that these shelter repair kits are helping families return home quickly.
"Our beneficiaries in Iligan are very receptive to this system. Before we distribute the vouchers, our contractors and chapter volunteers explain to the beneficiaries how everything works. Orientation sessions are carried out in order to address queries and concerns of beneficiaries," she explained.
The Red Cross has provided 2,000 families in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro with shelter repair kits. Efforts are also continuing to find land where permanent houses can be built for families who used to live in areas now declared uninhabitable by the government.
Six model houses have been built and 1,900 families registered. But funding needs remain.
Even now, three months after the storm, many people are still living in evacuation centres and make-shift shelters, and host families are expressing concern about the continued burden of providing housing for those with nowhere else to go.
“It is clear that three months after Washi, much still needs to be done to ensure the complete recovery of the affected families,” said Richard Gordon, the Chairman of Philippine Red Cross.
“We should not only attend to emergency needs of these typhoon-affected families. We should continue to bring back their dignity and empower them so that when the next disaster strikes, they will be prepared,” he said.