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Typhoon Bopha: Two months later facing uncertainties with hope

Source: World Vision - International. - Sat, 2 Feb 2013 04:12 GMT
Author: Aaron Aspi, Emergency Communications Specialist, World Vision Philippines
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Going back to Bopha-stricken areas after covering the disaster onset in the Philippines last year, I still feel uneasy with the thought that not so much has changed with the surroundings. Weeks of crisscrossing across the hardest-hit provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Agusan del Sur, the trail of Bopha's devastation remains evident. 

In the countryside, the once lush mountains are now replaced with harrowing images of desolation wherever you look -- roadside piles of logs from toppled trees, tracks of lifeless coconut trees that look like folded umbrellas, debris from wrecked houses, roads and bridges, streets filled with makeshift dwellings and tent cities housing thousands of families under meager supplies. 

"I've never experienced this kind of hardship, I've lost everything. Our farm was destroyed. Without relief assistance, I don't know how much long our family could survive," shares Violeta Opiala, 46. She and her three children are still staying in an evacuation center in New Bataan nine weeks after Bopha hit. 

Two months after Typhoon Bopha devastated Northern Mindanao, survivors are still reeling over the loss of their homes, livelihood and loved ones.  Emergency response is now at early recovery stage as people join clean-up drives and reconstruction of their houses and communities. 

Rising concerns on food access and shelter face local government and humanitarian groups as response enters early recovery phase. With farms destroyed and communities left in shambles, people are struggling to cope. The extreme weather and cold front rains slow down the delivery of relief aid and services. 

Joining our health specialist Arlo Ramos, we do the rounds in the villages posting information on how to seek psychosocial help in local health centers. The villagers immediately huddled in the area as they read and listen to Arlo speak. I saw them nodding, some in near tears as they were comforted by their neighbors. More than the everyday water and food needs people are hungry to be informed of how they can better take care of themselves.  

In the village of Andap in New Bataan, a memorial marker now stands amidst rubbles, big boulders and raging waters that swept and buried hundreds of people during the December 4 floods and landslides. Visitors offered flowers, lit candles and prayers are offered to the long list of etched names of people who perished in this place. They are among the 1800 dead and missing after Bopha's wake. 

There were also children playing in the area -- climbing boulders, playing with stones and sticks. Using what's left of their surroundings for play, the children's resilience is amazing. Much of the schools and playgrounds are still destroyed but children make do of what they have and go back to school. They are full of life, eager to learn and are happy.

It's uplifting to know that our NGO is expanding help to do cash-for-work, food-for-work and emergency school feeding for children in the next phase of the response. More than getting quotes, videos and photos for stories, communications work during emergencies is tough but it's more than a job for me. It has become duty to reach unchartered territories and share people's stories of survival and hope. Their stories are my source of strength and inspiration.

I wake up early every day to join the relief operations knowing that more families will get their much-needed supply of food and better access to clean drinking water. I sleep at night tired but fulfilled because more children will sleep soundly too because they've eaten dinner and they're now more comfortable in their tents. I wake up again the next day knowing that their situation will get better and that Bopha-hit children and families will overcome their hardships, rebuild their communities and rise up once more.

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World Vision reaches out to 27,500 families in the Bopha-hit areas of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Agusan del Sur in Mindanao, Philippines. Two months-on, the urgent and continuing needs are shelter, water, food and non-food items, hygiene kits and psychosocial support for survivors especially children.

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