The Philippines: Tropical Storm Washi six months on
Six months ago, more than 400,000 people were forced to leave their homes in the southern Filipino island of Mindanao when Tropical Storm Washi hit the area. Some people moved in with family members, while others lived in emergency evacuation centres. At the height of the crisis, about 70,000 displaced people lived in 55 centres set up in public buildings, such as schools in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao.
At City Central Elementary School, one of the most crowded centres in Cagayan de Oro, as many as six families lived in each classroom. The school was a safe haven for about 3,500 people, but providing shelter for the displaced families severely disrupted day-to-day teaching.
Advocacy efforts led by OCHA and humanitarian partners, including international NGO Save the Children, have started to bear fruit, and some of the displaced families have now been resettled into temporary housing, which provides more privacy and protection. More than 800 people were transferred to temporary houses during May, allowing classes to being as scheduled at the start of the new school year on 4 June.
“The displaced people were in need, and we were able to help them with support from the Department of Education and the international community,” said City Central Elementary School Principal Dudoy Padinit. “After six months we can now say that we’ve fulfilled our mission. I just hope that the city government, the regional government and the national Government will be more prepared when the next disaster strikes.”
Today, only six schools are still being used as evacuation centres in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities. This number is down from 24 at the height of the emergency.
“Mr. Padinit and the teachers at City Central have been very patient, sacrificing themselves and the school to support the survivors of Sendong [Washi],” said Gonzalo Codina, head of the local Save the Children office.
Just before the start of the new school year, the Department of Education organized a Brigada Eskwela - a traditional event that brings communities and teachers together to prepare and clean schools. This year, Save the Children provided 42 school-cleaning kits, and the World Food Programme and Action Against Hunger ran cash-for-work programmes to provide an income source for displaced families who participated in the event.