Mothers in Cagayan de Oro need help
Emily Amolato continues to exclusively breastfeed her son at an evacuation site in Cagayan de Oro city
By Alex Gregorio
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines, December 2011–The gymnasium and multi-purpose hall of Macasandig village in the centre of Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, is normally a place of activity and entertainment.
During summers and fiestas, sports competitions and musical programmes are staged here. Locals would fill the gym to its topmost bleachers, cheering their favorite teams or applauding dance performances.
Now, the Macasandig gym is crowded with people as though it were the final round of a sporting or dance competition.
But in place of laughter and applause, one would find ashen mothers and children lying down on makeshift mats side by side uncollected piles of trash.
After the torrential rains and flooding brought by Typhoon Washi (local name Sendong) on December 16, the Macasandig gym has been transformed into an evacuation site for hundreds of families who have lost their homes.
The floods – the worst ever to pummel the city in living memory – took the lives of over 1,300 people, many of them women and children.
In the storm’s aftermath, many homeless families, especially those who used to live near the city’s riverbanks, have fled to several relocation sites to find relief and shelter.
Macasandig is now one of the most crowded evacuation sites in Cagayan de Oro – a city unfamiliar to and unprepared for this magnitude of disaster.
Appeal for help
A young boy surveys the crowd at the Macasandig evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro.© UNICEF Philippines/2011/JMaitem
It’s estimated that 40,000 families in Cagayan de Oro have been badly affected by the storm and floods, and many of them have lost their very homes and sources of livelihood.
In Macasandig gym, the relocated mothers said they lack a regular supply of safe water needed to keep their children clean and healthy. Diarrhoea among children in the site is now a growing problem.
Despite the continued assistance extended by the government and various groups, the evacuees confess they still lack basic requirements for proper hygiene, sufficient toilet facilities and other necessary sanitary items.
Stella Remotise, a 43-year old mother staying with her children and ailing husband in the gym, urged nonprofit volunteers to ask for more help. “They give us clothes and food here every day, but we never get soap, disinfectant, and vitamins or diarrhoeal medicine for the children,” she said.
Eighty per cent of Cagayan de Oro remains without water due to the heavy damage to infrastructure caused by the typhoon. Repair work has started, but it will take at least a month for services to go back to normal, according to the City Water District. Meanwhile, the 11,000 persons housed in four of the city’s evacuation centers are surviving without the steady supply of potable water.
Fighting to keep her child safe
Emily Amolato, a 30-year old mother and one of those housed in the gym, said she is still lucky she is strong and healthy enough to continue exclusively breastfeeding her three-month old son, John Michael.
Like many others in the centre, Emily lost family members and loved ones to the flood, including one of her siblings and three nephews.
Nonetheless, she said she is committed to continue nourishing her young child properly despite the dire situation they are in.
She appealed for greater assistance and support for her family and the others now living in the gym. “If the conditions in the gym continue as they are many of our babies and children will get sick,” she said.
At present, over 700,000 persons were affected by tropical storm Washi (Sendong), half of them children. UNICEF have distributed water and sanitation supplies to assist in the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities for children and families affected by the devastating floods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities in Mindanao. Children and families received water kits containing water cans, pails, buckets, soaps and water purification tablets.
More supplies for child nutrition, education and child protection are to arrive in flood affected areas in the coming days. UNICEF is calling for US$ 5.8 million out of the US$28.6 million requested by the UN. Only US$ 1 million of the funding needed to carry out these programmes has been raised. A further US$4.8 million is needed. The appeal will support UNICEF’s response in the areas of water and sanitation, health and nutrition, education and child protection.