Nearly 200 participants take part in the Emergency food-for-work project in Compostela, helping to clear in debris and rehabilitate farmlands. Credit: WFP Philippines/M. Horie
OCHA Operations Director John Ging concluded his first visit to the Philippines on Monday, urging the international community to step up their efforts to help the Government meet the needs of people affected by Typhoon Bopha. The typhoon, which was the deadliest storm anywhere in the world in 2012, hit the southern island of Mindanao killing more than a thousand people and affecting some 6.2 million.
More than 210,000 homes were destroyed leaving a nearly a million people homeless. Today, about 800,000 of them remain displaced.
“The scale of this natural disaster in Mindanao is unprecedented,” said John Ging. “Our job now is to ensure that the international community remains focused to assist the Government for whatever length of time is required.”
Mr. Ging met with local government officials and representatives from the donor community, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies providing relief assistance in Mindanao. He visited some of the worst affected areas in Compostela Valley, where the equivalent of a million truckloads of debris was left by the storm. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land were decimated, destroying the livelihoods of the majority of the communities.
“Despite these challenges, what impresses me the most is the resilience of the survivors of the typhoon,” said the OCHA Operations Director after visiting a community that was forced to evacuate their village which was completely destroyed by mudslides and flash floods. “We will do our utmost to ensure that their needs do not fall off the international agenda.”
UN agencies and humanitarian partners are working with the Government to reach more people, especially those who are homeless and need support to rebuild their lives. The Philippines humanitarian appeal for 2013 is seeking US$112 million to help hundreds of thousands of people in Mindanao affected by frequent natural disasters, and decades of conflict and clan violence. Nearly 70 per cent of the funding will go to the Bopha response – over 40 projects including food, shelter, water and sanitation, health, education and protection.
“It was chaotic immediately after the typhoon, and I just did not know how we were going to manage a disaster of this scale,” said the Governor of Compostela Valley, Arthuro T. Uy, who led relief efforts.
“OCHA stepped in with the cluster system, and I realised just what an effective management tool the cluster system offers. It made a huge difference providing a more timely response and it was the most efficient way to deal with such a disaster.”
Under the cluster system, groups of humanitarian organizations, both UN and non-UN, are formed around the main areas of humanitarian action, e.g. water, health and logistics. The cluster system is used in emergencies to coordinate humanitarian action, fill gaps and eliminate the duplication of work by different agencies.
Through the cluster system, humanitarian organizations have reached people with emergency relief supplies as well as with support to rehabilitate homes, schools and farmland. Education is also a concern, because schools were destroyed in the storm, and children sheltering in temporary accommodation do not have access to classes.
“Education for children is investment in the next generation and ultimately saves lives,” said Mr. Ging. “It is the greatest investment in mitigating future natural disasters and I urge the international donors to commit to assisting the most vulnerable in society.”
Reporting by Orla Fagan/ OCHA Philippines