Thousands of families face short- and long-term challenges after Typhoon Washi

Publié: 22 décembre 2011 15:22 CET

Matthew Cochrane

In Cagayan de Oro the plight of the victims of the Typhoon Washi remains grim, five days after the storm devastated one fifth of the city. Tens of thousands are living in evacuation centres – school halls and basketball courts – where there are already reports of children with diarrhoea and skin infections.

Humanitarian organizations are scrambling to improve the water and sanitation situation in these centres to deal with this critical and immediate challenge. The Philippine Red Cross, with material and technical support from the ICRC, have provided drinking water for about 13,000 people in evacuation centres and affected residential areas.

An appeal for 2.63 million Swiss francs has been launched by the Philippine Red Cross and the International Federations of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to respond to the short- and long-term needs of people affected by the typhoon.

The organization is aiming to support 1,200 vulnerable families with transitional shelters to help them through the time between the disaster and a new home.

The Red Cross is also set to provide up to 15,000 families with hygiene kits and information, as part of a wider package of support. This assistance will begin in the coming days, but already volunteers are distributing food and relief items across affected areas.

The Red Cross has so far reached 2,375 families with food and 1,572 families with other relief items. At one such distribution, a crowd of more than 600 families gathered in the dark and rain to receive a supply of food to get them through the next three days.

But there is order here. People line up with the distribution cards they received earlier in the day, patiently waiting for their supplies.

“All of these people come from one barangay (neighbourhood),” says Ian Gonzales, a medical student and Philippine Red Cross volunteer in charge of the distribution. “About 800 families were affected and most of them are living in nearby evacuation centres, but others have stayed in their damaged homes.”

As the distribution ends and the crowd dissipates, Procesa Ybañez and her husband share their story of the floods. Her smile fades as she remembers the night. “My sister in law knocked on my door and said ‘the water is coming!’ I was scared and grabbed my husband – he is sick. We ran with our children.”

Gonzales says that Procesa’s story, and her emotional reaction, is common here. He puts it down to shock. “We never expected this to happen here,” he says.

In the five days since Typhoon Washi happened, the rarity of the event has become a recurring theme. An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, but none come this far south.

People were neither prepared nor warned. Many of those who died - including more than 300 in Cagayan de Oro alone – were asleep when the water began to rise. Houses and whole communities were built too close to rivers, and illegal logging had left hillsides dangerously denuded.
In a visit to Mindanao two days after the storm, Philippines President Benigno Aquino told survivors that their homes would be rebuilt, but asked them not to return to unsafe areas. “Our first priority is to relocate people to areas that no longer pose a danger to them,” he said.

This will take time. Before building can even start, new land will need to be identified and decisions will need to be taken about who will receive land.

On top of this, authorities have announced that many of the evacuation centres will close early in the new year when schools resume. Many people will return to their homes and begin to rebuild. But for those who now are not allowed to return home, long-term support is needed.

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