Manila slum fire displaces thousands of families

Published: 13 March 2015 16:22 CET

By Byron Jay Nonato,  IFRC

A terrible blaze last week destroyed or severely damaged more than 1,000 houses in Tondo, one of Manila’s poorest districts.

The fire, which began on 2 March, was put out early the following morning. 

In an instant, more than 3,000 families reportedly lost their homes – made mostly of flimsy materials – and most, if not all, their possessions. 

Despite the extent of the fire, which raged across five hectares, there were no reported casualties and only a few injuries. 

As soon as the alarm was raised, the Philippine Red Cross national headquarters and its Manila Chapter deployed staff, volunteers and response teams to support firefighters in putting out the fire and providing medical assistance.

Ironically, even though March is Fire Prevention Month in the Philippines, several fires have already been reported. 

A needs assessment by Philippine Red Cross found that almost 3,000 families from Parola Compound in Tondo were sheltering in four evacuation centres. Food, clothing, sleeping items, hygiene kits and kitchen items were deemed a top priority for distribution. Philippine Red Cross, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is now providing evacuees with food and non-food items, prioritizing pregnant women, children, senior citizens and the disabled. 

Apart from meeting these families’ needs, a considerable number of people who refused to take shelter inside evacuation centres because of overcrowding are also asking for support. Three of these families are now living together inside a severely damaged home, with only the concrete parts of the structure surviving the blaze.

House owner Rodrigo Napoles took in two other neighbouring families so their children wouldn’t be at risk to injuries or illnesses. In all, 13 individuals, including two infants and three young children, now live in the Napoles house. This story is repeated across the  Parola compound, showing a strong desire to help others even when tragedy strikes.

The Tondo fire has highlighted  the plight of the urban poor, revealing their perilous living conditions and vulnerability to disasters. 

Some part of Tondo, on the shores of the Pasig River and Manila Bay, are well  known for  high poverty levels and crowded housing conditions. Hundreds of houses stood no chance of being saved because the narrow streets prevented access by firetrucks. Residents whose homes and livelihoods were intertwined instantly lost everything, reportedly  due to unauthorised power connections from  overloaded electricity lines. 

A combination of the fire’s impact and a lack of economic stability, safety nets, medical services and decent housing has further exacerbated the families’ chance of living dignified lives.

"The IFRC will do what it can to help mitigate the immediate impact of this fire," said Kari Isomaa, Head of Delegation for IFRC in the Philippines. "We will continue supporting Philippine Red Cross in their campaign to inform the public on how to prevent such catastrophes."