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MINDANAO: “Please, if there is someone out there, please help us. We need food, clothing and shelter,” says Christolo, 41, as he gets to work rebuilding his house in Sibahay village, Boston municipality, a few days after parts of the Philippines were ravaged by Typhoon Bopha.
“Our five-year-old daughter, Maria, is getting sick because we don't have enough food. We're just eating the coconuts and bananas left by the typhoon. We are tired and no aid has arrived,” he adds, before resuming his hammering and sawing.
Typhoon Bopha caught Christolo, his wife and their five children by surprise. No warning sounded in their village and they spent a terrifying night fighting for survival as their house on the coast was flattened. “We just hid out like frogs when the typhoon came, leaping from one place to another. We lost everything. That was our house over there,” he says, pointing to a pile of wood over the street.
Christolo's story is echoed across Davao Oriental: Countless families saw their communities devastated as they were caught unaware by the typhoon – an extreme weather event they had never experienced and barely understood. Now, like Christolo, many are hard at work clearing space and rebuilding their homes, determined not to let their ordeal get the better of them.
Communities in need
About 300,000 people in Davao Oriental have been affected by Typhoon Bopha, which ripped through communities with winds of up to 260kph, creating a serious need for temporary shelter for the survivors, says Carin van der Hor, country director of children's organisation Plan Philippines, who have launched an emergency response in the province.
“This typhoon has come right at the end of the Pacific Storm Season, but there are days when it is still raining. Of the houses that are still standing in affected communities, the majority don't have roofs, which leaves families open to the elements and makes it harder for them to recover from what's happened.”
Across Davao Oriental, some people are beginning to rebuild their homes, but not everyone has the money or resources to do this. With that in mind, Plan Philippines will distribute tarpaulins to families in need so that they can at least cover the gaping holes where their roofs used to be.
“It's important for families to have a safe, comfortable place to live to help restore some sense of normalcy in their lives, especially for the children. These people have been through a very traumatic experience and many of them will need psychosocial counselling to get their heads around it – and this is something we will be offering to people as well,” adds van der Hor.
Many of those in Davao Oriental have been left physically and emotionally wounded. Medical supplies are hard to come by and local hospitals are in a state of disarray, leaving many injuries untended. Emotionally, people have been doing their best to deal with the situation.
“We're helping the displaced children cope by telling them we're just playing a game of 'house',” says mother-of-four Lucila Castro, whose house in Cateel has become a refuge for neighbours whose homes were flattened.
Many of those living across affected parts of Davao Oriental are now wondering how they are going to make a living. Most people are farmers of coconuts, bananas or rice, but plantations full of crops have been destroyed, says coconut farmer Jayffray Manguiob, 36 from Baganga municipality.
“It will take 10 years for us to grow those trees again. They were planted by our grandfathers,”
Twenty-five-year-old Jonathan Ibanez, who works in Manila, travelled back to his home town of Cateel after the disaster to find it a shell of its former self.
“It's just so sad because the area was on its way to progress. It's as if 50 years has been taken from us. It's very hard to rebuild this now. It's a farming town. Most will resort to fishing or carpentry after this,” he says.
“All the coconut and banana plantations and the rice fields have been destroyed. People don't want to rely on handouts but their sources of income have been lost. Those who are studying rely on the income of farming for their tuition fees. Most probably some will quit schooling and go find a job or some kind of bad activities.”
Those who fish for a living also can't go to sea because the vast majority of boats were destroyed. A temporary solution may lie in cash-for-work programmes where people can take part in community rehabilitation projects in exchange for money. In the long term, though, it's going to be a little more difficult.
“In the near future, we can start doing short-term cash-for-work or even food-for-work projects, but looking at the bigger picture, it's going to take a lot of determination and flexibility on the part of the people. Farmers, for example, may need to diversify the kind of crops they harvest, while fishermen will need to earn money from elsewhere if they are to get new boats,” adds van der Hor from Plan.
Communities out of reach
While the majority of relief aid will be focussed on the central hubs in each municipality, there's a danger that some of the more isolated villages could be overlooked. In Boston, for example, the indigenous Mandaya tribes up in the hills are also feeling the effects of Bopha.
Damage to schools is a real concern for these out-of-reach communities because the disruption to education can be prolonged, which can in turn make children more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Seven-year-old Thrixce, a student at the elementary school Caatihan village, Boston, is itching to get back to class and a normal life.
“I was very angry when Pablo came because Pablo destroyed our house. It's painful now that our school is destroyed also. I want to go back to school. I miss my school.”
In these communities, organisations like Plan can kickstart the recovery process by setting up tents as temporary classrooms while communities wait for the support they need to rebuild the schools. Full recovery from this devastating typhoon will take years for those whose lives have literally been turned upside down.
“We have to pawn some of our jewellery and valuables just to be able to afford to rebuild our house now,” says Marisa Poblate, 56, a teacher from Cateel. “But we are still smiling. That's the Filipino spirit.
Notes for editors:
- The Philippines experiences an average of 20 typhoons every year, with two or three of them devastating.
- Last year, Typhoon Washi (local name Typhoon Sendong) hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan – both in Mindanao – a week before Christmas. Typhoon Washi left close to 1,500 people dead, over a thousand missing and an estimated US$23.8M damage to property (at US$1:PhP42).
- Mindanao is still recovering from Typhoon Washi. Plan International provided an emergency response in the province of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
- Apart from temporary shelters and hygiene kits, Plan also conducted psychosocial processing and disaster response training to residents in both areas.
- Plan International in the Philippines has years of experience in disaster response, specialising in education in emergencies and child protection in emergencies. Our first response can also consist of water, sanitation and hygiene supply, if needed.
- For media inquiries, please call Mardy Halcon, Communications Officer, at +63 917 5435210.