The Philippines: Urgently seeking shelter after Tropical Storm Washi

5 January, 2012
28 December 2011, Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, the Philippines: Evacuation centres such as this one in Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro are overcrowded with over 335 families. More than 37,000 people remain in 54 evacuation centers in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Credit: OCHA/Kirsten Mildren
28 December 2011, Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, the Philippines: Evacuation centres such as this one in Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro are overcrowded with over 335 families. More than 37,000 people remain in 54 evacuation centers in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Credit: OCHA/Kirsten Mildren

Time is ticking for international aid organizations in the Philippines, as thousands of people made homeless by flash floods urgently seek new accommodation.

It is nearly three weeks since Tropical Storm Washi brought 10 solid hours of torrential rain, causing a three-metre wall of water, mud and logs to cascade down the mountainsides in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, wiping out everything along the riverside.

More than 1,000 people died and 1,000 more are still missing, likely washed out to sea. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless overnight.

Local authorities immediately set up evacuation centres, mostly in schools, and aid organizations have focused on providing assistance to people sheltering there. But many of the biggest challenges are only just beginning to emerge, and longer-term solutions are urgently needed.

The first tough decision was whether to postpone or resume school, which was due to start on 3 January.

This entailed either finding alternative sites for the 36,000 people living in the school grounds, or disrupting the education of thousands of children. The Government elected to resume classes as planned, but to hold them in tents in the school grounds.

Adding to the shelter crisis, the Government decided that people who had been living in high-risk areas along the river bank would not be allowed to return and rebuild, meaning they need new homes elsewhere.

Aid organizations believe there are a further 200,000 people currently living with relatives or in makeshift shelter who also need somewhere more permanent to live. The total number of people needing accommodation is still unknown.

Finding land for new homes

It is already proving difficult to find sufficient land for new short- and long-term accommodation. The Government has identified some sites on which to start building, but they are not enough to house even the people in the evacuation centres.

Exacerbating the problem, displaced people in Cagayan de Oro have already started moving to one of the sites before its water or sanitation facilities are completed. The concern is that other displaced people will now rush to secure the remaining tents.

The authorities are developing a plan, with the United Nations support, to prioritize who needs to be moved first, and for people only to be moved when sites are ready and facilities available.

But in the absence of an information campaign to notify the people of Cagayan de Oro as to what is being planned, confusion and concern is growing among the thousands displaced.

This has been compounded by an outbreak of the deadly infectious disease leptospirosis. Thisis caused by bacteria transmitted through mud or water that is contaminated by the urine of infected animals. Eight people have died and several hundred are infected.

The World Health Organization has provided rapid diagnostic tests to mobile teams to ensure people are treated in time.

In the overcrowded evacuation centres, aid organizations are working around the clock to improve the water and sanitation facilities, not knowing how long it will be before people can move on.

More>> How to Help guide (as of 22 Dec 2011)

Reporting by Kirsten Mildren, OCHA.

Keyword search