On the road to recovery six months after Typhoon Megi

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By Necephor Mghendi and Afrhill Rances in Manila

Fernando Rasco, 25, feels that a major worry has been lifted off his shoulders; his family now has a permanent roof over their heads six months after their old house was torn apart when Typhoon Megi struck the Philippines.

Monday 18 October 2010 had begun as a normal day for Fernando and his family. He left home with his wife, their three sons and daughter on Sunday evening and headed to his employer’s house where he and his wife worked as labourers at a corn farm in Ilagan municipality, Isabela province.

Their employer had provided them with a room closer to their workplace and from where their eldest sons, Fernan and Reylando, went to school. They usually returned to their own home on Friday evenings. “We just happened to be staying at our employer’s concrete house, which was sturdier. We were not even aware that a super typhoon was bearing down on us,” Fernando explains.

After the typhoon had passed, he rushed back to his barangay (village) to check his house. To his shock, there was nothing left except the foundations and scattered, mangled corrugated iron roofing sheets. “Not even our bedding, water containers or cooking pots were spared,” he says. It dawned to him that it was by sheer luck that he and his family had survived the disaster.

“We were very lucky. I cannot imagine what would have happened if we had followed our weekly routine and had stayed in our house,” he adds. What he did not know then was that Isabela was in Typhoon Megi’s direct path. As it happened, Ilagan was the municipality that took the brunt of the super typhoon. Fernando’s home was among the 6,200 destroyed in Ilagan alone. In all, some 30,000 homes were destroyed and 118,000 damaged nationwide.

Homeless and jobless

As if losing his home was not enough, Fernando’s life would take another turn for the worse. With hectares of rice and corn crops in the agriculture-rich province damaged by the typhoon, opportunities for farm work dwindled. Now, in addition to being homeless, Fernando and his wife were jobless.

“It was a real struggle to make ends meet. I found it hard to bring food to the table,” he explains.

Through the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Philippine Red Cross provided Fernando’s family and 11,190 others with food packages consisting of rice, noodles and sardines. This ensured that his children had rations to last a couple of days. They also received sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, hygiene kits and jerry cans.

“The assistance from the Red Cross helped me to restart my life and rebuild my house, so I’m really thankful,” he says.

Six months on from the day that the category five typhoon slammed in to the Philippines, signs of recovery are emerging. Some 4,000 families in Cagayan, Isabela and Kalinga have rebuilt or repaired their homes on a self-help basis after receiving shelter materials from the Red Cross.

“Our response is now fully on the recovery phase after we completed relief distributions in February,” says Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of the Philippines Red Cross. “We have met the needs of typhoon-affected families and now we are helping those whose homes were destroyed or damaged to rebuild,” she adds. More funding for recovery needed

Recovery efforts continue, and preparations have advanced for some 6,000 families – in addition to the 4,000 already served – to receive shelter materials. Red Cross logistics teams are on the ground identifying possible distribution points.

Meanwhile, though recovery work is on track, the appeal launched by IFRC on 26 October 2010 for 4.2 million Swiss francs (4.3 million US dollars or 3.1 million euros) has only been 66 per cent funded. The shortfall limits the number of families that the Philippines Red Cross can assist – many of whom shared Fernando’s ordeal.

As for Fernando, there is only one worry remaining – obtaining capital to start farming a one-hectare piece of land that he inherited from his parents. “My heart is at peace now that we have a place to live,” he says.