By Patrick Fuller, IFRC
As the sun emerges, steam begins to rise from the sodden shelters scattered in the grounds of Compostela municipal centre. Evacuees from Typhoon Bopha have been here for two months, and most have no homes to return to.
Home for 29-year-old Stella Navales is a sheet of plywood, raised from the ground on cement blocks with tarpaulin walls and roof. The space measures 6ft by 5ft, barely big enough for her family of four to sleep side by side. The ground surrounding the shelter is covered with thick fetid mud caused by recent rains and the heat is already oppressive.
Stella’s husband and some relatives recently returned to start repairing their damaged home, only to be forced back to the evacuation centre by the rains that have caused further misery for the survivors of Bopha in this area of Mindanao.
‘It rained for two straight days and the flood waters rose higher than me,” she says, “When they came back, the kids were soaked and terrified. They thought it was Bopha all over again. All our donated goods they took to the house were lost.”
Stella’s is one of 216,000 families across Mindanao whose homes were damaged or destroyed when Typhoon Bopha swept through. Her husband worked in the mining industry which was hit hard by landslides in the mountains following the storm. With no income the family is now largely dependent on humanitarian aid distributed to the evacuation centre.
The Philippine Red Cross has been one of the organisations at the forefront of relief efforts. It takes the entire day for volunteers to distribute food supplies and household items such as sleeping mats and water storage containers, to 1,700 families made up of evacuees and local people from Compostela town who are in need. Funded by the European Commission’ Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), the supplies have been provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the German Red Cross.
“The sooner these families can return home the better,” says Randy Loy, administrator of the Philippine Red Cross Compostela Valley Chapter. “There isn’t an adequate water supply or sanitation in many of the camps. The risk of disease grows every day they stay here. With the recent rains we have seen many evacuees who had gone home, returning to the shelters.”
Families patiently wait their turn in the stifling heat, pregnant mothers and senior citizens are first in line. For Stella, the basic supplies – which include rice, tinned food, and soap – are commodities that she struggles to afford. “It’s been a month since we received anything. We really need these sleeping mats,” she says, holding up the tattered remains of her families bedding.
When the conversation turns to rebuilding her home, she becomes more despondent. “Before the typhoon came, we were living with my mother. We hoped to start building our own house but at the moment we only have money for our day to day living,” she says.
Breast-feeding a young baby while looking after her other children, Stella is feeling the strain of living under these conditions. “I argue a lot with my husband and feel like I’m going crazy sometimes. We are not OK here. It’s too hot and uncomfortable. With all the mud, it’s just too much.”
A 20 minute drive away lies the village of Andap, which has become one of the iconic locations symbolising this disaster. Most of the village was destroyed following a landslide which diverted a local river. 344 people were killed and 204 homes destroyed as a torrent of mud and boulders crashed through the village.
Perched on a hillside above Andap are 100 newly constructed shelters. The families here have been relocated by the government from their damaged homes alongside the river and are living in tents and basic shelters made from tarpaulins draped over wooden frames.
43 year old Alex Amobayon lives in the camp with his wife Editha and their three children and five grandchildren. For Editha the biggest problem is the lack of sanitation. “We have to go down the hill to use a toilet and the only water source is from the spring,” she says.
Alex worked in the gold mines in the surrounding mountains but has been jobless since Bopha struck. Like most people he’s not sitting around waiting for help to arrive. Every day, he has been trying his best to make improvements to the families one room shelter. “I just need some materials to build something decent.”
Necephor Mghendi, the IFRC’s head of operations in the Philippines, said meeting the needs of the families who have been relocated is a challenge. “At the moment shelter assistance remains a neglected humanitarian priority. Thousands are living in a precarious situation, surviving under tarpaulins or in makeshift shelters which are barely habitable,” he said.
Typhoon Bopha - two months on and there are still huge challenges ahead
By Patrick Fuller, IFRC