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At a glance: Philippines

In the storm-stricken Philippines, a true story of a mother’s love

© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Francia
Lea Mariano, a mother of five, breastfeeds 11-month-old Bunso. Ms. Mariano prevailed in a struggle to hold onto her baby when they were caught in raging floodwaters.

By Marge Francia

MANILA, Philippines, 1 October 2009 – It was a day that would be etched forever in Lea Mariano’s memory. On 26 September, she and 90 million other Filipinos went about their day in the usual fashion: enjoying a typical Saturday with family, running errands, going to the mall or taking care of their babies.

Little did they know that what would happen in the next hours would test their will and courage to fight for their lives – and the lives of others, including their children.

Tropical Storm Ondoy ravaged the Philippine archipelago with torrential rain that went unabated for 12 hours. Dumping a month’s worth of rain in less than a day, it flooded 25 per cent of metro Manila and affected more than 24 provinces around the country.

‘The rescuers couldn’t get to us’

Major bodies of water overflowed into homes of both the rich and the poor, children were separated from their mothers, the elderly became helpless against the raging floodwaters and people could be seen from the rooftops of their homes waiting for help to come.

“The water started to rise so fast, and before I knew it, I was walking along a thin cement wall holding my baby tight, finding anything I can hold on to so that we won’t be swept away,” said Ms. Mariano. “The rescuers couldn’t get to us because they water was so high. When we were finally safe, I saw my baby all wet and shivering. She has turned violet because she was so cold.”

Although they had to flee their home, Ms. Mariano, her husband and their five young children were more fortunate than others. More than 200 people have died in the flooding, and others remain missing. Hundreds of thousands have been relocated to evacuation centres.

Life in the evacuation centre

For Ms. Mariano, surviving the storm was one thing, but surviving life in the evacuation centre is another matter. In most of the schools that are being used as shelters, there is no electricity and no water, due to the floodwater that has inundated much of the country’s infrastructure.

It’s a good thing Ms. Mariano is breastfeeding her baby, 11-month-old Bunso, protecting her from most illnesses. But sometimes, food for the mother is in short supply, too, and she is not able to produce as much milk as she would like.

During times of emergency, UNICEF becomes the voice for many mothers and children, such as Ms. Mariano and Bunso, who desperately need help. Within 24 hours of the storm hitting Manila, UNICEF supplied food and non-food items, as well as temporary shelter materials, to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for distribution to stricken communities.

In the coming weeks, UNICEF and its partners will work to ensure that more flood-affected children and their families are protected from disease outbreaks – and that nurturing mothers like Ms. Mariano, and their families, have a chance to rebuild their lives.



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