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Among the ruins left by Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, the long path to recovery begins

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Estey
Children drew pictures remembering the events surrounding the typhoon. After completing the drawing they folded the art work into paper airplanes and threw them, helping to release the negative emotions from the tragedy.

COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines, 2 January 2013 - Bernie Sambirin was excited for the coming birth of her second child. But, all that changed on the night Typhoon Bopha hit New Bataan town in the southern Philippines. After the roof was ripped of her house, she ran with her mother and son to a nearby building where her husband worked.

“People were running with me, but I fell behind because I was slow, as I was protecting the baby. The rain was very strong, wind, a lot of things were falling…I fell because there were a lot of coconuts falling,” she remembers, perched on the bleachers of her current ‘home’, the town gymnasium.

“I got drowned in mud,” she continues. “My husband had a hard time getting me out because I was so heavy and I was in mud…The people were telling me not to give up hope and to think of my unborn child. That’s all I thought about because it was so deep.”

A third life

In villages and towns all over Compostela Valley, families are adjusting and trying to recover after Typhoon Bopha ripped apart their villages, homes and families. The storm killed more than 1,000 people, and, as of 18 December, had left 26,000 people in evacuation centres and 960,000 people living in the ruins of their homes, open areas or living with host communities. The two regions of Davao and Caraga sustained most of the damage and loss of life.

Esther Samonte wipes her eyes as she talks about how the typhoon affected her family. Only six months earlier, she says, she had lost her husband in a motorbike accident, and her daughter Christy had been injured.

“It happened around seven in the morning,” Ms. Samonte says of the typhoon. “Because of the panic and confusion during the typhoon, we were separated, and our neighbours said that she [Christy] was swept away by the floods.”
She was beside herself as she waited for news in the evacuation centre. Then, after an hour, neighbours brought in her daughter, wet – but alive.

“I am thankful to God that we are alive. For me this is her third life,” she says.

After the storm

As soon as the storm had moved away, UNICEF joined the Government on assessment missions to the affected areas. Staff were shocked at the level of destruction brought by strong winds and flash floods.

Despite difficulties in reaching all of the affected areas, UNICEF, working with the Government and NGO partners, has begun providing clean water, sanitation and supporting education, nutrition and child protection services.

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Estey
Children affected by Typhoon Bopha attend a psychosocial support session supported by UNICEF in Compostela, southern Philippines. For many young children, exercises such as the one depicted here are a way back into normal routine and a path to recovery.

Child protection

In the aftermath of the floods, Jeffrey, Benita’s oldest son who celebrated his 16th birthday in the evacuation centre, has taken on a lot of responsibilities for the family.

“Here in the evacuation centre I play basketball, help my mother out, I cook sometimes. I also volunteer to carry donations, sometimes they give me something in return for my help - goods or food, ” Jeffrey said, quite proud.

But then he looked sad, “ Because of the floods we don’t have classes. Our school was also destroyed, it’s smelly and a lot of trees fell on our school. My notebooks were swept away, even my school uniform. I’m in fourth year now, I want to go back to school because I want to graduate. I want to be a lawyer someday”.

UNICEF is providing family water kits with supplies to purify water for 2 months, and hygiene kits with soap and toothpaste, for improved hygiene. UNICEF is also setting up temporary sanitary toilets in communities, and disseminating information about good hygiene. UNICEF is working with NGO partners and the Department of Health to provide essential medicines, including ORS for the treatment of diarrhoea.

Background on the disaster

In the early hours of 4 December, Typhoon Pablo,  hit the east coast of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines. It was the 16th and most powerful typhoon to hit the country in 2012. The Government of the Philippines initiated preparedness measures as early as 30 November, and since Pablo struck on 4 December it has been leading the response. On 7 December, the President of the Philippines declared a national state of calamity and accepted the offer of international assistance. UNICEF is appealing for at $12.9 million covering needs in the areas of Water and Sanitation, Nutrition, Education and Child Protection.

By Angela Travis

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