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At a glance: Philippines

UNICEF assists families in tent cities after Tropical Storm Washi

By Andy Brown

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines, 28 March 2012 – Gina Ayop, 28, lives in a tent city on the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro with her husband and four children, including 3-year-old Mark Angelo. The family lost their home in Tibasak, Macasandig, during the flash floods that followed Tropical Storm Washi last December. They were lucky to escape with their lives.

UNICEF reports on efforts to fight malnutrition among children displaced by the Tropical Storm Washi in the Philippines.  Watch in RealPlayer


Waiting to relocate

Though their tent home is meant to be temporary, they have been waiting for more permanent shelter for a long time. “We’ve been living here for over a month,” Ms. Ayop said.

“We have enough food and water, but no electricity.”

They are on a waiting list to receive a new house in a resettlement community in nearby Calaanan. “The mayor said we can’t go back to our old home because the area has been declared unsafe,” Ms. Ayop said. “We’re happy to move to the Calaanan because it has good facilities, and we’ll be more comfortable there.”

In the meantime, Mark Angelo spends his mornings at a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in the tent city. There, displaced children can play and participate in learning activities under trained supervision. UNICEF has additionally provided latrines, clean water and hygiene kits for families in the camp, and is working with a local partner to conduct malnutrition screenings.

© UNICEF Philippines/2012
A 4-year-old boy’s height is measured during a nutritional screening at Ubaldo Laya evacuation centre for storm survivors in Iligan City, Philippines.

Camp officials are also working to ensure families remain as self-sufficient as possible. “There are currently 132 children living in this tent city,” said Jervie, assistant camp manager from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). “Some of their parents work in the city, some work here as vendors. We’re doing an inventory of skills to help other families get back to work. The main problem for them is transport – it costs 15 peso [US$0.30] each way to get into the city by jeepney, but for some people their daily income is only 50 pesos [US$1.15].”

Advocating for children

The Ayop family is, in some ways, one of the lucky ones. Over 624,000 people were affected by the storm, and thousands of families are still living in evacuation centres and tent cities. Many families made shelters along river banks or on flood plains that have since been declared off-limits for housing.

“The government is planning to relocate all the affected families by June,” said UNICEF specialist Nonoy Fajardo. “Lots of houses have been pledged but there is a scarcity of land to build them on.”

At an evacuation centre at West City Central School, a visibly distressed woman from Barangay Bonbon approached UNICEF specialist Rohannie Baraguir. “Please, can you help get my family on the relocation list?” she asked. “There are 37 families here whose homes were destroyed and we have nowhere else to go.”

© UNICEF Philippines/2012
Women attend a UNICEF-supported 'mother-baby friendly' tent at Ubaldo Laya evacuation centre in Iligan, Philippines. There, women receive information on child feeding as well as psychosocial support to aid their recovery from the disaster.

Keeping families together

UNICEF is also helping to reunite families separated in the disaster.

“We are working with the government to set up a database of separated and unaccompanied children,” Ms. Baraguir said. “So far, we have identified 53 cases, of whom 32 have been reunited with their families. The others are being cared for by relatives or social workers.”

She recently identified two new cases, 1-year-old Roy and 3-year-old Marie, who were both orphaned during the flood. “Roy was living with unrelated neighbours,” Ms. Baraguir said. “We referred him to the DSWD and, after family tracing, he was reunited with his uncle in Pagadian City.”

Marie lost both her parents and two siblings in the storm. “She was found floating on a piece of wood,” Ms. Baraguir continued. “Marie’s now living with her grandparents… She’s much healthier now and is going to nursery school.”

These programmes, and further assistance during the relocation process, will be essential to helping children and families recover from the disaster. But this work is currently at risk due to lack of funds for response activities, which is still $3.5 million short.



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