Philippines interview: people struggling for shelter after typhoon Bopha
On 4 December 2012, Typhoon Bopha – known locally as Typhoon Pablo – hit the Philippines, leaving extensive damage and devastation in its wake. Winds in excess of 200 kilometres per hour ripped through coastal areas before continuing inland, destroying thousands of houses and shattering communities.
Heavy rains caused landslides and flash floods, washing away vital infrastructure. In one location, a river diverted its course. Its debris-filled waters tore through the heart of a community and destroyed the evacuation centre, killing many people.
Our delegate David Dalgado has gone to the Philippines with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to work with the shelter cluster co-ordination team. I spoke to him about the situation in the country and his role in the response.
What is the situation like in the Philippines now?
David: “The devastation is shocking, especially along the coast. There, people have lost thousands of coconut trees. These were their current and future livelihoods, and now the coconut trees won’t bear fruit for ten years.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before – trees completely snapped in half by the wind. In normal storms palm trees would just lose their leaves, but tens of thousands of whole trees have gone down. I can’t imagine how strong the winds must have been.
“Here, 90 per cent of people live in light timber houses. There has not been a disaster like this for over 100 years in this part of the Philippines, so it was not expected. The architecture was extremely vulnerable.
“It will take a very long time for people to recover – mainly because their livelihoods have been destroyed. It’s going to be a long slow slog for them.”
How are you involved in the response?
David: “For this response, the IFRC has deployed the shelter cluster co-ordination team. The team helps to map people’s needs, track different agencies’ activities and identify gaps in shelter provision. We ensure there is no unnecessary overlap between the work carried out by different charities and organisations.
“What is unusual about this disaster is that the recovery is extremely poorly funded – mainly because there has been so little media coverage of the disaster. Very few agencies are working here, so the support we provide is really helpful. In particular, we can help take care of the paperwork and reporting – giving agencies more time to focus on field work.
“However, our primary role is co-ordination – we highlight where different organisations are working, so everybody knows and can co-ordinate their efforts. If there is an area where there’s already lots of help being given, we highlight this and suggest that organisations work in other areas.
“My role is as the technical co-ordinator. I work to get all the organisations in the cluster to agree on technical standards for our shelter work. For instance the gauge of corrugated iron sheets or the type of nails we use. These small details can make a huge difference. If you use umbrella nails – rather than regular nails – to hammer down the iron sheeting for a roof, the sheeting is less likely to come free in high winds.”
Is access to areas not controlled by the government a problem?
David: “Together with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross is using its neutrality to get access to all areas. It has been pretty successful – no other organisation has that level of access.
“Across all parts of the country, the Red Cross has been able to distribute more relief than all the other agencies combined. They are the only people with access to some of the areas in the Philippines not controlled by government.”