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Thousands still lack basic services in typhoon-hit central Philippines

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 28 Jan 2014 15:42 GMT
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Residents cook at the school grounds after being evacuated from their homes due to heavy flooding brought by tropical depression "Agaton", in Butuan on the Philippine island of Mindanao January 21, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
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(Corrects paragraph 6 the travel time from nearest airport to five hours.)

GUIUAN, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Heavy rain lashes the damaged school building, and the tarpaulin roof of the classroom is barely holding the weight of the pool of water collecting on it. A green plastic bucket placed to collect water leaking from the makeshift roof is filling up fast. 

The students huddle in the centre of the room as the wet patches on the floor around them spread remorselessly.  

Water may be all around them, but the children at this elementary school on the outskirts of Guiuan, a town in Eastern Samar province where super storm Haiyan made its first landfall on Nov. 8, have had no safe drinking water since the school reopened on Jan. 8. 

The storm broke the school’s only hand pump and has yet to be repaired. This correspondent accompanied an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team that visited the school after getting a request for help. 

Many communities in Eastern Samar, both inland and coastal, have the same problem – they are still struggling for basic services like clean water and shelter almost three months after Haiyan hit. Many are relying on water trucks and tanks set up by aid agencies such as the ICRC or Medecins Sans Frontieres. 

Recovery is taking longer here than in neighbouring Leyte province, partly because Eastern Samar is more difficult to reach - a jolting five-hour drive from the nearest airport, in Tacloban in Leyte, on a severely potholed road. 

Bad weather plays a major part too. The province had more heavy rain after Haiyan struck, but a tropical depression in mid-January brought such stormy weather that typhoon survivors were further displaced and aid operations were hampered. 

“Supplies that are already in Davao (in southern Philippines) had to be delayed,” said Christopher Sutter, ICRC’s deputy head in the Philippines. 

“Especially in the last three weeks we had to regularly cancel the barges  crossing from Mindanao Island to Samar Island. It caused delays and when supplies don’t arrive as planned, it then delays the distribution plans,” he added.

DEVASTATED COASTLINE

The delay in the arrival of materials has also affected the repair of water points in the province. 

This means that the ICRC, which has set up water treatment sites in Samar and Eastern Samar, is still delivering 1.1 million litres a day of safe drinking water to an average of 85,000 people. 

“Logistically it has been a challenge for us and it still is. Everything has to come by ship to reach Leyte or Guiuan,” Sutter, who was in Guiuan on Tuesday, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Haiyan was the strongest storm on record to hit land. It devastated large parts of the central Philippines, killing 6,200 people and affecting some 14 million. 

More than a million properties were damaged and some 4 million people are still displaced from their homes.

Heavy rain and strong winds from Tropical Depression Agaton in mid-January further affected parts of Eastern Samar. Hundreds of people were evacuated, emergency shelters damaged or destroyed, and rice fields in several municipalities flooded. 

The bad weather has not stopped. Heavy rain covered much of the province for most of Tuesday. In Barangay Alog, a small district in the municipality of Salcedo that is near the coast, people fled from Agaton, and have not returned. 

“People were scared because they thought it was like Yolanda (the local name for Haiyan) again,” said Robin Datey Jr, the district captain. “We are still struggling to recover.”  

“What we are seeing is that the whole Eastern Samar seaboard is still pretty devastated,” said Samir Wanmali, emergency coordinator with the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations food agency. 

“People still need some form of emergency assistance, not just in terms of food but also shelter,” he added. 

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