Philippines: Staying and leaving

21 November, 2013
21 November 2013, Tacloban, Philippines: A child and his family at the airport in Tacloban. All families are processed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Credit: OCHA/M. Cochrane
21 November 2013, Tacloban, Philippines: A child and his family at the airport in Tacloban. All families are processed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Credit: OCHA/M. Cochrane

Tacloban’s airport is surely one of the hottest places in the city. There are no trees, and Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the little shelter that was available. Each day, hundreds of people arrive from across the affected region looking to board a flight to Manila or Cebu where they can stay with families or friends.

For days, people have lined up under the scorching Leyte sun. On Friday, there was finally some respite. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) organized with the airport authorities for people to wait in the remains of the VIP lounge.

More importantly, in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) they have also started registering the people who are leaving.

Where are you going? What are your needs?

“We started on Saturday, but it was all ad hoc,” said IOM’s Joanna Davao. “Now, we have a system in place.”

Once people are issued a card granting them a flight, they provide their details to IOM. They are asked where they are going, if they have the means to get there, if they plan to come back, and if they will have a source of information once they return.

“We want to understand where these people are going, and what their plans are,” said IOM spokesperson Leonard Doyle. “We also want to understand what their needs might be once they arrive there. Do they have resources? Do they have support? Their needs won’t necessarily end once they leave Letye.”

“This area of Visayas is notorious for human trafficking,” Doyle continued. “We want to be sure that no one slips through the cracks because of this emergency.”

Thousands in evacuation centres

IOM is also working with displaced people who are staying in evacuation centres dotted across Tacloban City. According to their most recent analysis, there are a little over 15,000 people living in these spaces.

The Astrodome is one of the best-known of these evacuation centres. In the days following Typhoon Haiyan, it became a symbol for the city’s plight. Twenty-four year old Ryan Dolpha Brazil and his family have been living there since the day before the storm.

“We live 1km from here – just down that way,” he says, pointing to the road that runs along the water. “Our house is gone. There are no remains. It’s ruined.”

The first couple of days were very difficult, Ryan says. “After the storm, for two days we had no food because the roads were full of debris and fallen trees. But then people started to arrive.”

The first delivery, he says, was from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Other agencies turned up to distribute food, water and hygiene supplies. Tarpaulins were soon handed out and Ryan was able to fashion a modest shelter for his family.

Meeting needs where they are

In the initial days of the operation, the Government and humanitarian agencies worked hard to push out basic supplies to as many people as they could reach. Now, as the precise needs of communities become clearer it is important that the response is tailored to their needs says Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator.

“We need to be sure that we are meeting needs wherever they are,” he says. People at the airport may need support once they leave Tacloban, so we are there for that. People at evacuation centres continue to need very basic assistance. Soon they will need help figuring out their next steps. We will be there for that too.”

As Ryan shares his story, another delivery of aid is taking place directly opposite his makeshift shelter. This one has been organized by a local businessman. It is followed almost immediately by a distribution by IOM of household supplies: blankets, kitchen kits and the like.

“This situation is better. But I don’t know what happens next,” says Ryan. “After here, maybe we can rebuild a new house. But not close to the water this time: that’s too dangerous.”

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