Finding hope amidst the ruins
by Alex Gregorio
Iligan City, Mindanao, Philippines. December 20, 2011–In a city devastated by flooding, grief and so many deaths, celebrating Christmas this coming Sunday may be the last thought on people’s minds.
In a span of only a few hours on December 16, Typhoon Washi (known locally as Sendong) unleashed a month’s worth of rainfall and much destruction.
Arriving shortly before midnight as people soundly slept, the storm brought floods that gathered force with furious speed.
According to many survivors, they were awoken by muck and waters that rose from their ankles to their shoulders in a matter of minutes, leaving them with very little time to protect their loved ones and belongings.
The unexpected wall of muddy water blasted bridges, mangled vehicles and practically destroyed everything in its path.
Based on figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the flood that turned Iligan’s roads into mighty rivers has already killed over 1,000 people. This figure may continue to significantly rise in the next days as more bodies are found. Sadly, many others may never be traced. Many of those lost, were women and children.
Coping with grief
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.
Anita and her family survived the raging mud and waters by quickly clambering onto the roof of their neighbour’s two-story house, where they sought refuge for hours before being rescued. Their one-story home of 10 years was blasted away by the current.
“We lost everything,” she 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.”
Days after the tragedy, intense pain and panic remain etched on Anita’s eyes, as she busied herself with feeding her four young children.
When asked about their plans, Anita said, “We do not know. We have no idea what to do.” She said perhaps the government and other private donors will find a way to relocate them to a better settlement, one that could help them pick up the pieces of their broken lives.
Meanwhile, their four young children, aged between 1 to 8 years old, continue to be exposed to various risks. There is still no water supply in the affected barangays (villages) and many of the evacuation sites do not have access to safe water and power, as well as proper toilet facilities. This exposes women and children to water-borne diseases and the possibility of exploitation.
Since Sunday, December 18, UNICEF has been assessing the extent of the damage and coordinating with the government and humanitarian agency partners. In the next days, it will begin to distribute relief and emergency kits.
UNICEF has already dispatched supplies from Manila and Cotabato City and some have arrived in the affected cities. These emergency supplies include water kits, water purification tabs, water containers, portable toilets, hygiene kits, school packs, tarpaulins, tent sets, and recreation kits for psychosocial support.
Moreover, UNICEF is working with partners to establish safe breastfeeding areas in evacuation centres and will also screen children for acute malnutrition while providing supplementary feeding.
Christmas at the evacuation center
Despite all the destruction, anguish and unending tales of woe, some of the children in Iligan’s Santa Filomena evacuation centre still find time to play together and build friendships.
One such group of friends, Vicristian, 11 years old; Aileen, 15; and Eliza, 10, lived through ordeals during the flood that could bring adults to their knees.
After the storm, Aileen was brought home the next morning only to discover that her entire home had practically disappeared. Vicristian had to climb up a mango tree and stay there for nearly seven hours before being rescued. All children have siblings that have drowned or are still missing.
When asked what kind of gifts they would want in the next few days for Christmas, Vicristian and Eliza said they are looking forward to moving to new homes.
Aileen would want a new house too, but she said being alive and having both her parents alive are for her already wonderful Christmas presents.
With more support and assistance, these children and many more like them stand a better chance to face life anew and with much strength and hope.
The UN has launched a joint appeal for US$28 million to cover immediate needs for the next three months.
To send help to Mindanao, go to http://donate.unicef.ph or follow UNICEF updates on Facebook.com/unicefphilippines