His god daughter was found in a cemetery in the town of New Bataan, Compostella Valley, Philippines, after her mother and siblings died in a landslide triggered by Typhoon Bopha. The girl’s father remains on the missing persons list.
She is just three years old – potentially orphaned and living with her relatives.
This was a story told to me by a local government officer about his god daughter while he gave us data about the number of casualties, injuries, displaced persons and damages. It is not unusual situation. Many aid and government workers conducting rescue and relief missions have suffered losses themselves, but press on because they see just how great the needs are.
Over 700 people are now reported dead, with more than 800 still missing. Many children have lost their fathers who were out at sea fishing when the typhoon struck. Because residents did not heed early warnings, many children have now been reported unaccompanied by adults while others are sleeping in open areas without proper shelter, access to water or food, making them more vulnerable than they already are.
Following an assessment of destruction and needs, Save the Children’s teams have begun distributing toiletries, blankets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets, cooking pots and pans, and jerry cans with drinking water to the worst-affected families in Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur. These areas have been completely flattened in the storm – houses, plantations, schools and other commercial buildings reduced to a pile of mud and debris.
We are just at the beginning of our relief efforts. There is not enough room in evacuation centres, electricity is expected to be down for the next two months, women and children are without private sleeping areas, children do not have safe play areas, schools could take months to be restored, livelihoods have been destroyed – there are huge problems still waiting to be tackled. In the meantime, children could be forced to work in order to feed their families, stunting rates could go up in an area already blighted by child malnutrition, children could be at risk of being kidnapped at night while sleeping in open areas and subjected to abuse due to the stress of sleeping in close quarters.
Two years ago, no one would have expected a situation like this. Mindanao sits very close to the equator, away from the general path of storms headed to the Philippines. Families here are not prepared for such disasters, simply because no one expects it to hit them. As a result, their houses were not built to resist such strong winds, fishermen were unlikely to pay any attention storm alerts, and children have not taught to react and respond to a situation like this.
With climate change changing the way storms traditionally occur, new and stronger infrastructure needs to be in place, early warning systems strengthened and training to ensure that people evacuate and respond accordingly to keep their children safe. Save the Children is now appealing for more funds to help rebuild the lives of these children who were already living in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.
Nearly 1.6 million children have been affected in this typhoon and we need to ensure that help reaches them and they are ready in the event a disaster like this strikes again.
Maricar Edmilao is the Child Protection in Emergencies Officer for Save the Children in the Philippines