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Governor of typhoon-hit Philippines province appeals for aid extension

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 22 Jan 2013 16:37 GMT
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COMPOSTELA, Philippines (AlertNet) - The governor of the province worst hit by Typhoon Bopha seven weeks ago has appealed to aid agencies to provide relief for longer than planned  as the typhoon “devastated” people’s lives and livelihoods and recovery would take years. 

In an interview with AlertNet on Tuesday, Arthur Uy, governor of Compostella Valley in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, also said local governments should prioritise activities like curbing deforestation and identifying vulnerable areas, that could reduce the damage caused by disasters. 

The province’s agriculture sector was badly hit by the typhoon, particularly coconut fields and banana and rubber plantations, with estimated losses of 10 billion pesos ($248 million), Uy said. 

It takes about one year for banana trees to grow back, four to five years for rubber and even longer for coconuts, he said. This meant local farmers would find it hard to feed themselves once food aid from the government and donors such as the World Food Programme (WFP) ended in the next few months.

“The timeframe for WFP to stay here is six months” but it could take at least three years for people to recover, he said.”So I appeal to the donors to extend the food assistance by a few more months.”

The provincial government is encouraging people to plant cash crops like corn and vegetables so the local economy can recover faster, Uy said, but that presents its own challenges. Few people in Compostela grow cash crops so they do not even have seeds.  

“The farmers need to plant as soon as possible because the food assistance will come to an end in the next few months. They need to earn money,” he told AlertNet.  

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS “A PRIORITY” 

Bopha was the most intense storm to hit the disaster-prone Philippines in 2012. It struck in the early hours of Dec. 4, killing over 1,000 people and affecting millions. It flooded farming and mining towns and buried many people in mudslides. More than 800 people are still missing. 

The flash floods killed some 600 people in Compostela Valley alone, and more than 400 are still missing, Uy said. In Andap village, New Bataan municipality, nearly 300 people were washed away, almost the whole community. 

“The community totally vanished. Now, only boulders, stones and mud are left there,” he said. “We never experienced a typhoon of this magnitude.” 

The typhoon damaged or destroyed more than 210,000 homes, 80,000 of them in Compostela Valley. 

Seven weeks on, the deadly combination of mud, rock and fallen trees litter New Bataan and many local people remain displaced, some forced to leave a second time by persistent rains. 

People are now traumatised, Uy said, and even a slight change in the weather worries them. 

“On the positive side, the level of awareness is raised and they are more responsive to the calls of the government on weather advisories,” he added. 

The Philippine government started preparing for the typhoon as early as Nov. 30, including evacuating some people, but some families preferred to stay put, either because they had nowhere else to go or because they thought the typhoon would not be so strong.

Uy said Mindanao should be better prepared in the future and he had increased the funds allocated to disaster preparedness. This “should be a priority programme for local government units,” he said.  

“Climate change is a reality. Considering that for two successive years Mindanao was hit by two typhoons, people are saying it may be because of a change of path for the typhoons,” he added. 

He said he would like foreign donors and the national government to help assess Compostela Valley, looking at areas that are high risk and identifying no-build zones. 

“The disaster was an eye-opener,” Uy said. “Those provinces and areas that are not hit as yet (by storms) should also be prepared.”

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