By Alex Gregorio
ILIGAN CITY, Philippines, 21 December 2011 – In a city devastated by floods and fatalities, the arrival of Christmas is the last thing on people’s minds.
|© UNICEF Philippines/2011|
|“We lost everything,” said Anita Tingas, at the Santa Filomena evacuation site in Iligan City, Mindanao, Philippines.|
Tropical Storm Washi arrived on the southern island of Mindanao on 16 December, shortly before midnight, unleashing a month’s worth of rainfall in the span of only a few hours.
Known locally as Sendong, the storm brought floods that gathered force with furious speed. Walls of muddy water blasted bridges and mangled vehicles, turning Iligan’s roads into mighty rivers.
Survivors report being awakened by mud and water that rose from their ankles to their shoulders in a matter of minutes, leaving them with little time to flee with loved ones or belongings.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reports that the death toll has already climbed to 957, and this number is expected to rise as additional bodies are recovered. Sadly, many may never be found.
‘Everything is lost’
Anita Tingas, 30, a mother of four children currently living in an evacuation center in Iligan City, spoke of the horrors brought by the floods.
Ms. Tingas’s one-story home was blasted away by the current. She and her children, all under 8 years old, survived by clambering onto the roof of a neighbour’s two-story house, where waited for hours before being rescued.
“We lost everything,” Ms. Tingas said, “all our belongings, our appliances, our clothes, my children’s school supplies and books – everything is lost and we have no place to call home now. We do not know what to do.”
|© UNICEF Philippines/2011|
|Anita Tingas feeds her children at the Santa Filomena evacuation site in Iligan City, Mindanao, Philippines.|
The affected barangays, or villages, are left without safe drinking water. Many of the evacuation sites also lack access to safe water, electricity, and proper sanitation facilities – exposing Ms. Tingas, her children and others like them to water-borne diseases and potential exploitation.
UNICEF is assessing the extent of the damage and coordinating with the government and humanitarian agency partners.
UNICEF has also dispatched emergency supplies from Manila and Cotabato City to the affected cities. These include water purification tabs, water containers, portable toilets, hygiene kits, school packs, tarpaulins, tent sets and recreation kits to assist children’s psychosocial recovery.
UNICEF is working with partners to establish safe breastfeeding areas in evacuation centres, and to provide supplementary feeding and screening for acute malnutrition among children. UNICEF and partners will also train teachers to provide psychosocial support to children, which will help them cope with the disaster and its aftermath.
Christmas at the evacuation centre
Despite all the destruction and anguish, some of the children in Iligan’s Santa Filomena evacuation centre are finding time to play and build friendships. One such group of friends, 15-year-old Aileen, 10-year-old Eliza and 11-year-old Vicristian, have bonded over their experiences.
Vicristian survived by climbing up a mango tree, where she stayed for nearly seven hours before being rescued. After the storm, Aileen returned home to discover that most of her house had disappeared. All three girls have siblings who drowned in the floods or are missing.
Vicristian and Eliza said that for Christmas, they look forward to moving to new homes. Aileen would like a new house too, but she said being alive and having both her parents alive are already wonderful Christmas presents.
With more support and assistance, these children – and others like them – can face the new year with renewed strength and hope.