Philippines: Lack of funding worsens plight of homeless typhoon survivors

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In Calamba City, in the Philippines' Laguna province, 300 families are still living on school grounds that were converted into an evacuation centre during typhoon Ketsana. That was in the beginning of October. The families received food and relief goods from the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), but what they want most, is to be able to go home.

Jelita Ajes has been living at the evacuation centre with her husband, children and grandchildren for almost three months now. "We came here just as Ketsana arrived and have been living here ever since. Our house is still submerged, right now the water is about waist high," she explains. The flooding in the Philippines was so severe that flood waters are not expected to recede fully before February or March 2010.

The family managed to save a few household items, but lost all other possessions. "We will go back to our house once the water goes down," says Jelita. "It's very stressful. There are so many people, so many children, no privacy, and getting enough water is a real problem. We have no choice but to stay here until we can move back into our home."

Typhoons leave hundreds of thousands homeless

Jelita and her family are among the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by a devastating series of four typhoons which struck the Philippines in late September and October. The storms killed nearly one thousand people, severely damaged or destroyed more than 300,000 homes and affected more than ten million people. The situation was exacerbated by heavy rains throughout November and many municipalities remain under water.

PNRC Laguna branch administrator, Rudelly Cabutin, reports that 22 towns in the province were badly affected by Ketsana, with the situation aggravated by Typhoon Mirinae on 30 October. "The situation is very difficult," he says. "People are living in tents, without proper sanitation, and some people are even living in houses that are still partially submerged."

Appeal severely underfunded

The situation is made more difficult by a funding crisis for shelter activities. The emergency appeal launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for 16.3 million Swiss francs (16.1 million US dollars; 10.9 million euro) is only 32 per cent covered.

"This dramatic lack of funding could seriously jeopardize our ability to provide vital emergency and transitional shelter to highly vulnerable populations," explains Graham Saunders, head of the IFRC shelter department in Geneva. "At the same time, emergency shelters, such as schools and churches are closing, and the people housed there have to leave. So there is an urgent need to distribute shelter materials to people wishing to repair their homes and to build transitional shelters."

"Our objective was to support 67,500 households in getting safe and adequate shelter. But with current funding, we can only support 16,500 families," says Graham Saunders. In addition to this we plan to construct 6,500 transitional, cyclone-resistant shelters for people whose homes were destroyed and begin repair work on 10,000 partially-damaged homes. We also need to ensure adequate access to water and sanitation services. But with the 70 per cent of the needed funds outstanding we will only be able to implement part of what is needed.

The Red Cross Red Crescent is testing a pilot voucher system to provide repair kits to families whose homes were partially damaged. Under the system, a head of household is allocated the equivalent of about 165 Swiss francs (160 US dollars; 111 euro) worth of materials which include corrugated and galvanized iron sheets and coconut lumber, hand tools such as hammers, saws and chisels and electrical wire and sockets. People can request any combination of materials or equipment. The list is verified by the PNRC before those the items can be collected from a local hardware store.

Assistance includes recovery

"The operation is also an opportunity to promote better awareness and understanding of typhoon-resistant construction and effective shelter response with the Red Cross, other aid agencies, and with affected communities. It also includes advocating for access to appropriate land sites with the government and relevant authorities. But if we do not receive sufficient funding," Saunders warns, "thousands of displaced families will remain without a safe roof over their heads."

"Following a disaster, shelter priorities go beyond saving lives and providing protection from the weather," underlines Saunders. "They also include ensuring privacy and dignity, personal safety and security, and helping people resume a normal life."