By Alex Gregorio
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines, 6 January 2012 – The gymnasium and multi-purpose hall of Macasandig Village, in the centre of Cagayan de Oro City, is normally a place of activity and entertainment. During summers and fiestas, sports competitions and musical programmes are staged here. Locals fill the gym to its topmost bleachers, cheering for their favourite teams or applauding dance performances.
Today, the Macasandig gym is crowded with people, but in place of laughter and applause, one finds ashen-faced mothers and children lying down on mats beside uncollected piles of trash.
Tropical Storm Washi
After the torrential rains and flooding brought by Tropical Storm Washi, locally called Sendong, on December 16, the Macasandig gym was transformed into an evacuation site for hundreds of families who lost their homes.
The floods – the worst to hit the city in living memory – took the lives of over 1,250 people, many of them women and children.
In the storm’s aftermath, many families, especially those who used to live near the city’s riverbanks, have fled to relocation sites to find relief and shelter.
Macasandig is now one of the most crowded evacuation sites in Cagayan de Oro, a city unfamiliar with, and unprepared for, disasters of this magnitude.
Appealing for help
It’s estimated that nearly 40,000 families in Cagayan de Oro have been badly affected by the storm and floods. Many of them have lost their homes and sources of livelihood.
In the Macasandig gym, women said they lack the regular supply of safe water needed to keep their children clean and healthy. Diarrhoea among children in the site is now a growing problem.
Despite the continued assistance of the government and various aid providers, many evacuees say they still lack basic requirements for proper hygiene, sufficient toilet facilities and other necessary sanitary items.
Stella Remotise, 43, is staying in the gym with her children and ailing husband. “They give us clothes and food here every day, but we never get soap, disinfectant and vitamins or diarrhoeal medicine for the children,” she said.
Much of Cagayan de Oro is without water due to heavy damage to infrastructure. Thousands of people housed in the city’s evacuation centres are surviving without a steady supply of potable water.
Emily Amolato, 30, is also living in the gym. Like many others in the centre, she lost family members and loved ones to the flood, including three nephews and one of her siblings. Emily says she is, luckily, still strong and healthy enough to continue exclusively breastfeeding her 3-month old son, John Michael. But she appealed for greater assistance on behalf of the others in the gym. “If the conditions in the gym continue as they are, many of our babies and children will get sick,” she said.
UNICEF on the ground
More than 720,000 people were affected by Tropical Storm Washi, many of them children. In response, UNICEF has distributed clean water and sanitation supplies in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, the areas worst affected by the storm’s devastating floods. Families received water kits containing pails, soaps and water purification tablets, and supplies for child nutrition, education and child protection are set to arrive in flood-affected areas in the coming days.
United Nation partners have jointly appealed for US$28.6 million. Of this, US$5.8 million will support UNICEF’s water and sanitation, health, nutrition, education and child protection programmes. Yet as of 28 December, only US$1 million of the needed funds had been raised.