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At a glance: Philippines

Field diary: Mindanao families and children endure the reality of flooding in the Philippines

© UNICEF Philippines/2011
At an evacuation centre in Mindanao, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist Esmaeil Ibrahim walks with Datu, 6, a boy from a flood-displaced Filipino family, and other children.
UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist Esmaeil Ibrahim travelled to flood-affected communities in the Philippines to assess the situation of families, especially women and children. His report follows.

By Esmaeil Ibrahim

COTABATO CITY, Philippines, 15 July 2011 – A number of tropical storms have hit the Philippines recently, bringing floods, flash floods and landslides to many regions. During my mission, most of central Mindanao, in the southern part of the country, was submerged.
The most affected area was Cotabato City, where there were tens of thousands of families living in evacuation centres.

Dire need

The centres are in dire need of help. Hundreds of families are crowded into each of the school buildings that are serving as temporary shelters. Often, the schools themselves are flooded, and some have no latrines. It’s especially hard for women and girls, because they have no privacy.

© UNICEF Philippines/2011
Children in Mindanao are among the most vulnerable in the Philippines, threatened by conflict as well as natural disasters.

There is very little safe water to use for drinking and washing. When people get sick, it’s difficult to get proper medical attention because many health centres are submerged, too.

Meanwhile, children cannot continue their education because there are families living in the schools, and even their text books have been washed away. Their teachers were also affected by the flooding and need to take care of their own children.

Vulnerable children

At the evacuation centre in Tamantako Elementary School, I met Jamila, 39, a mother of three whose husband is a farmer. They lost everything. Their house, all their belongings and their farm are under water.

“I am happy that UNICEF gave us tarpaulins, jerry cans and clean water,” said Jamila. “But we still have many urgent needs, like food, water, toilets, temporary schooling for the children and medical attention.”

Jamila added: “I can’t look after the children all the time. Sometimes they play and swim in the floodwaters. Is this the reason why they get sick? In the night there are lots of mosquitoes, and during the days there are lots of flies.”

© UNICEF Philippines/2011
Prolonged displacement and suspension of classes in Mindanao are affecting the learning and psycho-social well-being of children in the southern Philippines.

No place to play

I also met Datu, 6, who was scared to approach me at first. He and a group of children followed our team around while we conducted the assessment. It took him a while to warm up to me, but when he finally did, he held my hand and joked with me while surveying the camp.

The little boy lives in the Don E. Sero Elementary School with his father, mother and five brothers. He said he didn’t go to his own school anymore because it was underwater. Datu doesn’t like living in the camp because there is no place to play. He told me his family was getting clean water now, but it still wasn’t enough.

“My younger brother got sick few days ago,” said Datu. “He cried all the night. He had fever and cough.”

Datu went on to say that he had asked his father when their family could go home. His father replied that they couldn’t return yet because their house was still flooded.

© UNICEF Philippines/2011
Most of the communities affected by recent flooding in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, were the same areas affected by conflict there in 2008.

Essential supplies

I’m glad to report that since the assessment, UNICEF has responded by providing flood-affected families with essential supplies, such as plastic sheets, blankets, water purifiers, medicines, vitamin A supplements, micronutrient powders, soaps, school packs, school tents, toys and games.

We are also using water tankers to provide flooded communities with safe water – as well as repairing water sources, conducting hygiene education, setting up emergency classes and providing psycho-social support to adults and children who are under profound stress. The situation is especially difficult because most of the communities affected by the recent flooding in Mindanao were the same areas affected by conflict here in 2008.

There is still so much work to be done. Before my mission in the Philippines is over, I hope to see Jamila and Datu back in their homes with their families.



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