By Afrhill Rances in Manila
Almost a month after monsoon floods swamped Manila and nearby provinces, thousands of people in low-lying areas around the Philippine capital have still not been able to return home. Unlike Metro Manila, where flood water has receded and people have started rebuilding their lives, the surrounding provinces of Laguna and Rizal remain inundated.
“It will take several weeks for water to recede in these communities,” says Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of Philippine Red Cross. “Affected families will need support to cope as they might not be able to return to their homes anytime soon.”
Barangay Wawa in Laguna province, some 70 kilometers from Manila, is one of the communities that are still flooded. For about a month, 200 families have been living in makeshift shelters and tents that they have set up on the higher ground of one the village’s paved roads.
Realyn Sembrano, 25, and her family are among the people now living in this camp. The youngest of her three children, Andrea, has rashes caused by a combination of mosquito bites and bathing in unsafe water.
“It pains me to see my baby going through this at an early age,” Realyn says in the middle of humming a lullaby to her two-month-old daughter.
This is not the first time Realyn has been displaced by floods. Christmas 2009 found them in an evacuation centre after floods from Typhoon Ketsana forced her family out of their home for months. She fears that the typhoon season might see them away from home for even longer this year.
“It feels like déjà vu,” she says. “We might spend yet another Christmas in a tent.”
The Philippine Red Cross has been delivering relief assistance to families like Realyn’s since the floods began. To date, approximately 50,000 families have received food packages, with 26,000 of them were also given essential non-food relief including blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and hygiene kits.
Red Cross teams have also distributed more than 70,000 litres of clean water in affected communities, organized cleaning campaigns to clear debris and mud left by the floods, and are conducting health education outreach, focusing on disease prevention.
With thousands of people still in need, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socieites has launched an emergency appeal for 1.8 million Swiss francs (1.89 million US dollars, 1.5 million euro), to support Philippine Red Cross in assisting 100,000 people.
“We have worked tirelessly to help the most affected families meet their immediate relief needs and to spread important messages on preventing the spread of disease,” says Ms. Pang. “But we also need to address their recovery needs.”
The emergency appeal will enable Philippine Red Cross to provide grants for families like Realyn’s to construct safer shelters outside flooded areas and to re-establish their livelihoods.
“This is crucial because the frequency and scale of disasters are projected to increase due to climate change,” Ms. Pang says. “We will put equal, if not more, focus on disaster risk reduction measures, which are necessary to prevent loss of lives and livelihoods in future flooding.”