Child evacuees face unseen threats after Typhoon Odette

Children in evacuation centers are at risk of malnutrition due to lack of food and unsafe water

Jude Ortega
A mother and her two children inside an evacuation center
UNICEF Philippines/2021/Louie Pacardo
04 January 2022

Reymon Polleros, 7, likes staying in the evacuation center. “It’s big,” he says. “And it’s not cold here.”

In the past two weeks, Reymon and his family have been taking refuge in Bantilis, the newly built two-story evacuation centre in Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands. The family had to evacuate as Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) battered the province on December 16, 2021.

“Our house was small and made of lightweight materials,” says Reymon’s mother, 37-year-old Monilyn. “None of it was left standing after the typhoon.”

Despite the comfort that some children experience in Bantilis, staying in the building is not without challenges. Evacuees need more support aside from relief goods. The safety of children is a serious concern as they are prone to neglect and abuse without proper interventions.

A child sitting on a woven wooden panel
UNICEF Philippines/2021/Louie Pacardo
Randel Polleros, 3, suffers from malnutrition. Before Typhoon Odette hit his town, children with his condition received sporadic attention. After the disaster, they might receive even less as government funds are funnelled into rehabilitation of infrastructure and provisions for the general population.

Health problems

Like most buildings and houses in Dinagat Islands, running water in Bantilis was cut by the typhoon. “We have to bathe and wash our clothes in a stream some distance from here,” says Monilyn. “The source of potable water is even farther.”

The youngest of her four children, 3-year-old Randel, suffers from malnutrition. “He cannot speak as well as other children his age, and he weighs less,” says Monilyn. “When the barangay health worker checked on him in October, he only weighed 11 kilograms.”

Facade of a community evacuation center, with a group of children standing on the front steps
UNICEF Philippines/2021/Louie Pacardo
Bantilis, the evacuation center of Cagdianao town, Dinagat Islands province, sheltered 54 families during Typhoon Odette. Some of the families continue to stay in the building more than ten days after the disaster.

Randel needs follow-up care urgently. Monilyn is not sure if Randel is moderate or severely malnourished. She also fears that his health might have declined during his stay in the evacuation centre.

Although Bantilis hasn’t had any medical emergencies so far, cases of acute gastroenteritis have been reported in three villages in Cagdianao and in five of the seven municipalities of Dinagat Islands. The provincial disaster risk reduction and management office reported 123 cases of gastroenteritis and expects outbreaks in the coming days due to poor access to clean drinking water.

A mother with her two children inside an evacuation center
UNICEF Philippines/2021/Louie Pacardo
Monilyn Polleros, 37, has been staying in an evacuation center with her family for more than ten days. At daytime, her husband and 11-year-old daughter go back to their village to rebuild their house, which was totally damaged during Typhoon Odette.

Need for shelter

At the moment, the Polleros family is not able to leave Bantilis until they’ve rebuilt their home. “We don’t have money for it,” says Monilyn. “My husband plants cassava, and the crop has been destroyed.”

Of the 54 families that took shelter in Bantilis during the typhoon, nine continue to live in the building. The weather continues to be rainy, causing delays in rehabilitation efforts.

Reymon spends most of his days playing with other children. The classes that he was taking through modules have stopped because the schools in the province have been damaged or turned into evacuation centres. The modules were also drenched in rain.

A boy sitting on a woven wooden panel
UNICEF Philippines/2021/Louie Pacardo
Reymon Polleros, 7, prefers the evacuation center over his house, which was destroyed during Typhoon Odette. The center, however, is ill-equipped to sustain the needs of his family in the long run.

“Bantilis has a child-friendly space on the second floor beside a breastfeeding room, but we can’t use the facilities because we don’t have the necessary materials,” says Juliet Dongos, a social worker with the municipal government. “We’re also using the second floor of the building as an isolation facility for COVID-19 patients.”

Reflecting on the situation, Dongos says, “People need proper shelter. They have to go back to their homes soon. They need as much help as they can get.”

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