NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AlertNet) - The stadium at New Bataan used to be a place for sporting triumphs, but no games have been played there since Typhoon Bopha hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao some seven weeks ago.
The stadium in Compostela Valley, the province most severely damaged by the typhoon, became an evacuation centre, a refuge for hundreds of families who lost their homes to the devastating storm.
The wooden stands where spectators used to cheer their favourite teams and athletes are now filled with tiny makeshift rooms partitioned by tarpaulins, blankets and old bedsheets.
Buffalo and other livestock graze the formerly green pitch, sharing the space with small awnings set up to shield stoves for cooking meals; wet clothes hang on the fences and kids play on the lower tiers of the stands.
When AlertNet visited the stadium on Jan. 22, there was a new influx of families, forced to leave their homes by heavy rains that started the night before and almost cut off New Bataan from the outside world.
About 300 families now call this place home, and none of them know how long they will be here.
“We will stay here until (the government) tells us to leave. We have nowhere to go,” said Juliana Malicana, a 70-year-old widowed grandmother, limping as she walked down the steps of the stadium with a plate of rice and a soot-covered kettle.
Malicana fell and injured her legs while running away after three coconut trees, uprooted by the storm, fell on the family home. She’s been sharing a tight space in the stadium with her three children and 13 grandchildren.
“We’re just waiting for the government to relocate us,” said Samy Masinaing, 33. Living near a stream, his family are used to flooding and flee to the stadium whenever they need to, Masinaing said – but never for more than two days until now. Meanwhile, his 62-year-old mother slipped and fell on the stadium steps a couple of days ago and is now unable to walk.
YEARS TO RECOVER
Bopha was the most intense storm to hit the Philippines in 2012. When it struck on Dec 4, it flooded farming and mining towns and buried many people in mudslides in eastern Mindanao. It left more than 1,800 people dead or missing and damaged over 210,000 homes.
“With the enormous scale of destruction caused by the typhoon, it may take the people of the worst-hit part of the region many years to recover,” Philippe Beauverd, head of operations in Mindanao for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told AlertNet.
This is mainly because of “the almost total destruction of their crops and vegetation,” said Beauverd. “For instance, one of the main sources of income in Davao Oriental is the copra (coconut meat) harvest. It is estimated that it would take residents a minimum of seven to eight years to regrow these crops of coconut trees,” he added.
Other aid agencies agree.
Carin van der Hor, Philippines country director for Plan International, said it would take at least 24 to 48 months for people to recover from Bopha. “It’ll be longer if you focus on the agricultural sector, which may need five to seven years to fully recover,” she said.
In an interview with AlertNet, the governor of Compostela Valley said that even if people switched to cash crops such as vegetables and corn, it could still take around three years to recover. He appealed to donors to extend the period of food assistance.
In New Bataan, where more than 300 people died, debris from the storm - mud, heavy logs and fallen coconut trees - still blocks some roads. Bad weather in the past week has caused more flooding and landslides, making survivors like Malicana even more vulnerable.
“What we’re most worried about is this continuing rain,” she told AlertNet. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
“We don’t know how long it will take us to recover,” Malicana said. “We’re losing hope.”