Communities affected by ‘deadliest storm’ continue to struggle

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20/02/2013 - In a desolate valley full of rubble, rocks and black sand stands a 2 x 4 meter concrete slab with the names of over 200 people who died when Typhoon Bopha hit the Philippine’s southern province of Mindanao. This lone concrete monument bears testimony to the destructive power of the typhoon and the millions of lives which were affected by this disaster.

Two months following the storm the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department ECHO humanitarian experts Joelle Goire and Arlynn Aquino visited the affected areas in Mindanao to monitor the humanitarian aid projects funded with €3 million by the EU shortly after the storm hit. It also allowed them to take stock of the future needs.

What they saw shocked even a seasoned aid worker like Joelle: “I came here shortly after the disaster and even now, two months later, the extent of the damage to people’s lives such as housing, livelihoods and medical care is hard to describe” she explains. “In addition, since the typhoon, the people have had to endure unseasonably strong rains which have caused further suffering and made delivery of assistance all the more difficult.”

The typhoon’s humanitarian impact was indeed tremendous with 6.2 million people being affected. Nearly a million people were displaced outside evacuation centres and 1,146 reported dead. 834 are still counted as missing. Nearly a quarter of a million homes were either destroyed or damaged. Typhoon Bopha has been categorised as the deadliest storm in the world in 2012.

In Compostella Valley, the ECHO team had to walk for miles to reach villages which used to sit next to a small river but which turned into a raging torrent during the storm. The entire valley is now littered with dried mud, rocks and debris washed down from the mountains.

In another area, Davao Oriental, the team visited the village of Baganga where hundreds of villagers are still living in tents provided by the Philippine Red Cross, one of ECHO’s main partner in the on-going relief effort. The Red Cross is also providing clean drinking water.

In another town, Cateel, the British NGO “Merlin” is using EU funds to provide primary health care to hundreds of families from a bamboo and tarpaulin shelter. It hopes to resume building the health centre as soon as possible in order to provide better care. These are some of the projects which are currently being funded by ECHO and other donors, and government departments.

But the destruction of people’s homes and livelihoods will be more difficult to achieve without further assistance in the coming months. Major response gaps remain for basic humanitarian needs such as food access, shelter and health services.

“These were very poor communities even before the storm hit,“ Joelle explains. “Now that the banana and coconut plantations were levelled these people have no income so they cannot rebuild their homes on their own, and they cannot afford the basics such as food, clothes and medicines.”

The figures issued by the UN are indeed staggering: An estimated 750,000 people are in need of shelter support; 400,000 people critically needing sustained food assistance; 1.1 million people including 163,000 children have only sub-optimal health care services; while 95,600 people are at risk of malnutrition.

The revised UN Bopha/Pablo Action Plan published on 25 January calls for US$76 million in funding for basic humanitarian assistance and basic rehabilitation. These figures indicate how destructive this storm was and how long it will take for these impoverished communities to recover.

By Mathias Eick
ECHO’s Regional Information Officer in Bangkok