More than 600,000 people in the Philippines are facing the prospect of spending Christmas in cramped and damp evacuation centres, as the country reels from Super Typhoon Rai (known locally as Odette).
With some phone lines still down, roads blocked by landslides and boats destroyed, emergency workers are still discovering the scale of the damage on remote islands and in hard-to-reach communities. An estimated 1.8 million people are in need of assistance, and the number is rising.
Ansherina Talavera, Program Manager for the aid organisation CARE Philippines, says: “We are looking at a major humanitarian crisis. Over 28,000 homes have been destroyed and in some areas power is not expected to return for at least a month. Access to some of the worst affected areas, particularly remote islands, remains a big concern.”
CARE is looking to raise US $20 million to support those who have lost everything. People’s main needs are food, cooking equipment, safe drinking water, temporary shelter, medical kits, soap and other hygiene items to stop the spread of disease.
The Philippines has been one of the countries in Asia hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 2.8 million cases and more than 50,000 deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic. In the past few days, the first reported cases of the Omicron variant have emerged. Emergency workers fear cramped conditions in shelters will make transmission even worse.
CARE Philippines Country Director David Gazashvili says the level of destruction from Typhoon Rai is similar to that seen after Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded.
“The level of devastation caused by the typhoon is truly heart breaking. From the places our teams and partners have reached, 80-90% of houses have sustained heavy damage,” Mr Gazashvili says.
A team from CARE, with support from the Philippine Coast Guard and Surigao City officials, were the first to reach the outlying islands of Danawan. Staff report everything has been washed away and people have yet to receive any form of assistance.
CARE has started providing life-saving assistance in more than twenty communities and plans to scale-up operations further. Together with the local organisation ACCORD, CARE will provide food, safe drinking water, hygiene kits and solar lamps.
“Once people have received immediate life-saving assistance, we will also need to look at longer term rebuilding and support,” Mr Gazashvili says.
“Sadly, the Philippines is becoming all too used to these terrible seasonal storms that cause such devastation. We know from Typhoon Haiyan that recovery from this kind of natural disaster can take years.
“On top of this, we are also expecting more rains and a storm over 24 and 25 December as new weather systems are forming over the Pacific. We are once again asking donors to step up and assist and not forget the people of the Philippines in their time of need.”
Donate to CARE’s Global Emergency Fund here.
For interviews and photos contact Iona Salter on 0413 185 634.