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22 December 2011

“Ill-prepared” Filipino storm survivors need urgent aid –UN

Residents rendered homeless after their houses were swept in by flash floods brought by Typhoon Washi, seek shelter inside a church turned into an evacuation centre in Iligan city, southern Philippines December 18, 2011. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Hundreds of thousands of people affected by typhoon Washi in the southern Philippines need humanitarian aid urgently after being unprepared for last weekend’s storm that killed about 1,000, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Typhoon Washi hit the Philippines’ Mindanao island in the early hours of Saturday, unleashing landslides, flash floods and falling logs as people slept. The government declared a state of national calamity on Tuesday and authorities say dozens remain unaccounted for, mainly in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan at the north of the island.

“The scale of the needs is overwhelming local capacity and additional assistance is urgently needed,” the U.N. said that, adding that this was in spite of a quick response from the government.

The U.N. said survivors urgently need water, sanitation and hygiene as well as temporary shelter and food.

It said 284,610 people have been displaced, with some 42,000 taking shelter in 63 overcrowded evacuation centres where a lack of health facilities or access to safe water and poor hygiene are raising concerns of potential disease outbreaks. Close to a quarter of a million people are staying with relatives or in makeshift structures.

Prior to the storm, resource-rich Mindanao was already beleaguered by conflict and poverty. The government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been negotiating since 1997 to end more than four decades of conflict in Mindanao that has killed 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted economic growth.


Aid agencies are calling for better planning to prevent such a high death toll in potential future disasters on the island.

Authorities had identified the area as flood-prone. In early 2010, media reports cited the Caraga Region Office of Civil Defense Director Blanche T. Gobenciong as saying that at least 291 barangays (villages) in northeastern Mindanao were identified as flood-prone areas, while 183 villages were identified potential landslide-prone areas.

However, the U.N. said its latest assessments of the worst-affected areas of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan found “a population ill-prepared to deal with the scale of the disaster, and local response capacities struggling to cope with the unexpected needs.”

Global charity Oxfam said President Benigno Aquino should work with the local government to find safe, permanent relocation sites for residents living in vulnerable areas.

“It was a disaster waiting to happen,” Oxfam said in a statement.

“Living on the edge of riverbanks, families displaced by Washi today had once fled their homes in 2009 at the height of a storm,” it added. “With no alternative relocation then, they had gone right back, holding on to their proximity to the city and the assurance of livelihood.”

The U.N. agency on disaster management UNISDR also said more needs to be done to ensure early warning systems are effective, especially as climate change could lead to more extreme weather events.

“The storm was identified two days before flash floods swept through Cagayan de Oro City and Illigan City,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, chief of UNISDR.

“More must be done to educate people on disasters and climate change so they understand the risk they run when they refuse to heed warnings and do not evacuate on time,” she said.

She also said poverty, rapid urbanisation and deforestation create a “deadly cocktail of exposure and vulnerability” which leads to huge losses of life as well as infrastructure and property.

“The proportion of the world’s population exposed to typhoons and cyclones has almost tripled in the last 30 years and disaster management is not keeping pace,” she added.

Washi brought more than a month’s worth of rainfall over a 24-hour period over northern Mindanao – 7 inches (18 centimetres) compared to 4.5 inches for an average full month of December – the authorities said.

The European Union’s humanitarian office ECHO has pledged 3 million euros ($3.9 million) towards the crisis and the Australian government has pledged $1.3 million. The Red Cross is appealing for $2.8 million to help 5,000 families for 12 months.

- AlertNet