Six months after Typhoon Bopha, recovery is yet to reach many families

Published: 4 June 2013 15:41 CET

By Afrhill Rances in Manila

Six months after Typhoon Bopha battered Mindanao Island in the Philippines early recovery efforts are taking shape although many are struggling to get back on their feet. Uprooted trees and toppled electric posts remain a problem for residents and debris from destroyed houses, schools and other buildings scatter the landscape. The Philippine Red Cross, and others, have provided significant assistance to thousands of families, although needs remain.

In the last six months the Philippine Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has delivered food, blankets, sleeping mats, water containers and hygiene kits to 85,000 people, distributed more than one million litres of safe drinking water to 90,000 people and reached more than 200,000 people with disease prevention and hygiene messages.

“Our staff and volunteers, who have been working tirelessly since Bopha landed, are now fully focused on supporting survivors to rebuild their homes and to restore livelihoods, although in some areas they continue to disseminate disease prevention messages and distribute basic supplies to meet protracted relief needs,” says Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross.

Provision of shelter assistance, in particular, remains the top priority. “To date, we have enabled 25,500 people whose houses were damaged to undertake repairs by providing them with essential materials, tools and guidance. Similar assistance to 10,000 more people is underway,” Pang says.

In June, the National Society will launch the first phase of a project that will help 2,500 people rebuild studier homes that are more resilient to typhoons.

Many families in the worst-hit provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental continue to live in tent cities and makeshift or temporary structures. In Isla Poo, Kinablangan, Baganga, Davao Oriental, residents remain somewhat exposed to harsh weather elements and have taken few steps towards recovery.

“Most residents in my community only received tarpaulins which they used to replace or cover their damaged roofs,” says Anelyn Lagbas, a local official in Isla Poo. “Because the roofing is not sturdy, we are worried that the new rainy and typhoon season will worsen conditions.”

Sylvestre Mijares, 44, a resident of Isla Poo, wants to live independently, but, he says, as his family’s only source of income – a motorized fishing boat – was destroyed by Bopha. “I do not know how we will move on because the things I worked hard for all these years were wiped away in just one night,” he says.

Typhoon Bopha left entire communities stripped of livelihoods; it destroyed fishing vessels, uprooted coconut trees, felled banana plantations and flooded crop fields.

To assist families such as Sylvestre’s the Philippine Red Cross are kicking off a project that will help some 15,000 people to re-establish their means of earning income. Some of the families will also get an opportunity to earn an income as carpenters, masons or unskilled workers to support shelter reconstruction.

However, while the shelter needs on the ground are massive, available resources measure up. The Emergency Appeal launched by the IFRC for 16.2 million Swiss francs on behalf of the society remains significantly under-funded, with only 7.1 million Swiss francs – or 44 per cent – obtained.

“It is very unfortunate that six months since we launched our appeal, we have not received adequate donations to assist the very large number of vulnerable people,” says Bernd Schell, country representative of IFRC in the Philippines.

“I am making an ardent call to our partners for more donations to enable us provide decent shelter solutions, which are critical in guaranteeing protection and dignity of the most vulnerable populations, especially women, children and the elderly,” Schell says.

 Meanwhile, as Sylvestre stares blankly at the wreckage of his fishing boat, he says: “The world has forgotten us. It is like a terrible nightmare. I wish I could wake up, but this is my reality now.”