DAVAO ORIENTAL, Mindanao, Philippines (December 13, 2012) — It has been a week since Typhoon Bopha, ‘Pablo,’ hit the southern Philippines. I was one of six UNICEF staff deployed as part of the government and United Nations assessment to the four most affected regions. Presently, about 2.3 million children are affected.
I was assigned to Region 11 and arrived via Davao City in the morning. I joined the team’s seven-hour drive to the municipalities of Baganga, Boston and Cateel in Davao Oriental Province, where more than 90,000 persons have been affected. As we drove to the site, it was becoming clear that the province was practically flattened to the ground. Homes that were made with light materials were no match for the force of storm winds that would sometimes gust up to 120 miles per hour.
We reached the site at around 10 a.m. Immediately, I had a sense of the total destructive force of this typhoon. I saw totally damaged schools with no walls and roofs, government buildings, power lines toppled to the ground, water systems destroyed and crops ruined. There was widespread devastation as far as the eye could see—it was quite unreal and hard to take in.
People were staying in makeshift shelters or tents, as even most public buildings and schools made of concrete were damaged. Children were playing among the debris, unmindful of the fate that has befallen them. Along the road, people sat by their houses, some visibly dazed, while some tried to repair what was left of their homes. A gymnasium where people took refuge at the height of the storm had collapsed, burying the children and their families with it.
There is no electricity, communication, and access is difficult. While the local government tries its best to cope with the huge needs, they are overwhelmed. People here urgently need water, food, shelter, clothing, medicine and toilets.
I met a mother, Susan Salvania from Cateel, who had lost her home. She was lining up to register her family as one of those affected. “We urgently need clean drinking water,” she said repeatedly, her voice desperate. Her family was drinking water from hand pumps.
Communities here are resorting to drinking, cooking and bathing in contaminated water from hand pumps and rivers. In some cases, there are more than 400 households sharing a single hand pump. Children are already getting sick with diarrhea. While fathers try to find food or repair their homes, the tasks of having to walk long distances, line up in long lines and carry heavy water containers often fall on women and children.
UNICEF has mobilized its staff from the Manila and Mindanao offices to help the government in its response. Supplies requested by the Department of Health are being delivered today to the affected communities. They include 2,000 water kits containing plastic pails, water jugs, soaps and water purification tablets, as well as 2,000 hygiene kits containing soaps, towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sanitary napkins and diapers. Tarpaulin kits that can serve as temporary shelter and temporary latrines have also been sent. UNICEF is ready to respond with medical and nutrition supplies to serve sick and malnourished children, as well as education and recreation kits to create safe areas for children to play and gain a sense of normalcy in their lives.
UNICEF projects that $12.97 million will be required for immediate needs in education, nutrition, child protection and water, sanitation and hygiene. In the long term, UNICEF will also focus on building the resilience of the affected population. The funds will ensure UNICEF can continue to respond into the new year, by securing supplies and services for an effective response on the ground.