MINDANAO, Philippines: They’ve seen their homes destroyed, their possessions drenched and their lives turned upside down, but for the victims of Typhoon Sendong, which wreaked havoc on the island of Mindanao, Philippines, on December 16, there’s no looking back. The well-storied horrors of the storm and floods, which forced 430,500 people from their homes, won’t soon be forgotten, but there are mouths to feed and lives to rebuild.
“We just want somebody to help us rebuild our house or a company to come and give us work and maybe an organisation to help us recover our birth cards and citizenship documents,” says 31-year-old Lirio Peace, who lives with her husband, three-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter in a temporary relocation camp at an elementary school in Cagayan de Oro City.
There are 60 families at the camp living in 30 tents provided by Plan, Irish Aid and the EU aid agency. Local donations of items like clothes, toys, food and soap have trickled in, but people are keen to get back on their feet and move on.
“We need jobs to keep us going,” adds Lirio, whose work doing door-to-door sales of grooming and beauty products has taken a back seat since the storm. Her husband is an auto-electrician by trade, but work isn’t as easy to come by these days.
As with many people living in temporary shelters set up by local government and supported by organisations like Plan International, Lirio and her family have been through a horrific ordeal. When Typhoon Sendong dumped 181 mm of rain on Cagayan de Oro in 10 hours, the river burst its banks, washing away timber, debris and most of Lirio’s possessions, as well as a large chunk of the small riverside house she lived in.
The family were forced to the roof of their house as the water level rose. Lirio’s husband, Edwin, picked up their son, Denver, and swam a few metres to a grassy knoll, cut off from a nearby bridge, while Lirio, who can't swim, grabbed their daughter, Windelin, and used a water container as a buoy.
“The water kept coming and was rolling. I was afraid the water would eat me,” she says. “The current of the water was very strong. It pulled us down so we held onto the container and then grabbed the branches of a tree and held on for our lives.”
Villagers watched helplessly from the bridge a few metres away as Lirio and her daughter clung to the tree. After about 20 minutes in the water, a man armed with a container tied to a cable jumped in and swam over to rescue Lirio and her daughter.
“He dragged us to safety to the bridge and then we went to the school to ask for some clothes because it was so cold,” she adds. “My husband was still on the hill and I kept going back to check on him. We weren’t reunited until about 5 am in the morning when my husband could make it to the bridge with our son.”
The people of Mindanao were caught off guard by the wrath of Sendong, but their resiliency in the aftermath is testament to their character.
“It's been a painful learning experience, but the displaced people are still smiling. Filipinos are known for for their resiliency,” says Freddie Siao, councilor of Iligan City, another part of Mindanao that was badly affected.
Most people displaced by Sendong won’t be allowed to return home as the government is designating areas off limits to avoid a repeat of the disaster. It’s going to be a while before new land deals for relocating people are negotiated by the local government, but in the mean time, it’s important that families, especially children, are able to get back to some semblance of routine.
With any disaster, survivors are ever eager to get out of relocation camps and rebuild their communities, says Elias Salazar, Plan International's disaster risk expert leading the team in the Philippines.
“In order to support this, Plan has been getting people in the camps working on short-term cash-for-work projects, like building toilet facilities or helping with clean-ups. Plan's overall response targets close to 150,000 people and includes helping children and adults come to terms with what happened through psychosocial support sessions, as well as setting up child-friendly spaces and temporary learning centres.”
A lot of people are now looking forwards and local organisations are working on long-term programmes to get communities better prepared for future disasters.
“What is really needed in the long term is how to reduce this risk and the impact of this disaster and how to mitigate this risk. The challenge is so great and we need the support of many organisations like Plan,” says Nanette Antequisa, executive director of Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits.
As resilient as the population of Mindanao may be, many will live in camps for at least six months and rehabilitation for these people will take a coordinated effort by aid agencies and the local authorities. Plan International has so far raised $1 million from its own $1.5-million appeal, while a $39 million funding appeal by agencies is currently 27% met and dwindling focus on the Sendong aftermath means it could be a while before the money is there for organisations to work most effectively.
To donate to Plan's work on this disaster, please follow this link.
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