It was a scene reminiscent of Typhoon Washi exactly one year ago. Helpless children, women weeping in silence, men in shock. Typhoon Bopha (local name: Pablo) battered the southern Philippines from late Monday evening until early on the morning of Tuesday, December 4, leaving a trail of devastation that has particularly affected girls and boys.
Children in distress
“We didn’t know what a typhoon was until we were hit last Tuesday,” says Veruela Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer Elvira Dagaraga, shedding tears as she recalls the experience. “Never in my 30 years of living here had we experienced such a thing”.
Veruela lies 55km from the boundary of Compostela Valley, which was also badly affected. When the rain and the howling wind ceased Tuesday afternoon, only devastation remained: toppled banana and coconut trees, rice and corn crops submerged in chest-deep water, steel roof sheet littering the roadsides, bruised and injured children, dead bodies.
“There are more than 6,000 households in Verula" (an equivalent population of more than 33,000 people), says Ms Dagaraga. "All were affected. This includes 16,000 children who are very distressed, some can’t be reached out to because their villages remain inaccessible due to the flooding and fallen trees. We have more than 2,200 children of all ages in our evacuation centres and many are showing signs of serious distress, barely speaking and not engaging with their families or friends. We urgently need psycho-social help - but we have no expertise to provide it ourselves”.
Ms Dagaraga adds that, at the height of typhoon, two teenage mothers gave birth to babies; they are now among the thousands of evacuees in Veruela who need urgent assistance.
“Children in evacuation centres are now suffering from coughs and colds. We are also very concerned about the situation of our pregnant women, lactating mothers and newborn babies who are staying in the evacuation centres which are often only a basic school gymnasium. Food is insufficient and the supply of clean drinking water is inadequate. The weather is very hot during the day and very cold during the night. It is not suitable for them. They might get sick, especially the babies. Our stock of rice will only last until this weekend.”
Seven-year old Anna* found herself alone on a hilltop in Barangay del Monte. Her father brought Anna and her siblings to higher grounds at the height of the typhoon.
In a very faint voice, Anna recalls. “When our house collapsed, my father carried me on his back and put me beside a coconut tree to shield me from the rain. Other neighbours were also there.” She says her father told her to stay there while he fetched other members of the family.
As her father turned back to get other members of their family, Anna saw her mother and grandmother negotiating their way up the hill. As his father stretched out his arm to help them, a flying metal sheet hit the two women. Both died instantly.
Anna's father collapsed, overcome by grief, the powerful wind and intense rain.
“I don’t remember anything more,” the grade two pupil says when asked what happened next.
Milagros dela Cruz, a midwife assisting Ms Dagaraga, said a woman brought Anna to the gymnasium, which serves as an evacuation centre for some 420 families. “Anna can barely walk because of the wounds on her feet. She also has a hematoma on the right shoulder.”
Ms dela Cruz cleaned Anna’s wound and gave her an anti-tetanus injection but notes that Anna’s father is in a state of shock and unable to care for her so she is now being cared for by Ms dela Cruz and Ms Dagaraga.
“We don’t know how many Annas are still out there because several villages remain inaccessible,” Carin van der Hor, Country Director for Plan International in the Philippines says. “Technically, she is not an unaccompanied child because she still has a father but, with his present condition, he cannot give Anna the care and protection that she so urgently needs; Anna has lost her nurturing and caring environment”.
Plan calls for stronger child protection measures
“When disasters hit, they always hit the most vulnerable the hardest. So when Typhoon Bopha (local name: Pablo) hit Mindanao, the children in these areas suffered the most. Many children have lost their lives and many have lost their parents, siblings and extended families. They have lost their homes and seen things that no child should have to see,” Ms van der Hor says.
While there are no reports yet of child abuse or child trafficking, experience from Typhoon Washi last year shows that these risks increase the longer survivors stay in evacuation centres. The absence of private and child-friendly spaces in evacuation centres make children especially vulnerable to all forms of abuse.
According to UNOCHA reports, an estimated 80% of affected people are women and children. Many of the evacuation centres are congested and not designed to house people; many others are sleeping in the open air due to a lack of facilities. There is a lack of lighting and private or separate spaces, which creates protection concerns particularly for women and children.
As the time of writing, several international funding agencies have committed to provide food, shelter, hygiene kits and water purification tablets. The initial response from the Philippine Government is also concentrated on providing food for close to 215,000 evacuees in 308 evacuation centres across the affected regions.
“While it is understandable that millions of dollars should urgently go to relief efforts to keep people alive and healthy, Plan is also strongly lobbying for more focused child protection response efforts. There is an urgent need to provide psycho-social support for severely affected children. There is a need to put in place reporting and referral systems inside and outside evacuation centres to make sure that children are protected,” Ms van der Hor reiterated.
Plan International is raising US$1.5M to respond to Typhoon Bopha. Plan’s response efforts will focus on education in emergencies and child protection in emergencies.
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Notes for editors:
- The Philippines experience 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, where Plan International also provided an emergency response in the province of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
- Apart from temporary shelters and hygiene kits, Plan has also conducted psycho-social 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.
- *Anna's name has been changed to protect her identity.
- For media inquiries, please call Mardy Halcon, Communications Officer at +63 917 5435210
For more information about Plan’s work in the Philippines, including previous disaster responses, go to http://plan-international.org/where-we-work/asia/philippines