Gallos Sinao, the leader of a small mountain village inhabited by Manguangan tribal people in the southern Phiippine province of Mindanao, slowly rubs his gnarled hand across his weatherbeaten face: “I tell you: In my more than 70 years, I have never seen a storm like Pablo”, he recalls.”The howling winds, the driving rain just tore everything away and we barely survived.”
It’s been six months now that the Category 5 Typhoon known locally as “Pablo” slammed into the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental and continued its path of destruction northwards. The typhoon killed more than 600 pople and left over a quarter of a million people homeless, while crops were destroyed and infrastructure left in tatters. It was the most destructive Typhoon to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. The affected communities are recovering but the memories of the disaster are still fresh, like deep scars healing slowly.
Isolated communities in the mountains such as Sinao’s small hamlet in the Barangay of New Dalaguit were particularly badly hit and difficult to reach due to landslides and flooding. Just days after the Typhoon hit the area an expert team of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) first met Sinao and his wife after they had lost everything and had just build themselves a flimsy tent from sticks and plastic sheets.
ECHO initially provided emergency funding of some €3 million within days of the disaster. Three months later, the team of experts was back for monitoring progress and needs. There were first signs of recovery. Gallos Sinao had managed to build a more substantial shelter with material found around the area and tools provided by aid agencies. But obvious needs remained as the destruction had been so widespread affecting crops, homes and infrastructure alike. Therefore the European Commission added another €7 million in relief funding for projects in the sectors of livelihood recovery, primary healthcare and nutrition. Now, 6 months after the storm struck, Sinao stands proudly in front of his new home built by him and his community. A neat row of six similar houses was also built by the community with material assistance and provided by CARE and funded by ECHO. Rainwater can also be collected off their new roofs which flows into water barrels, known locally now as the “EU drums”.
As Sinao explains: “For us, our new homes mean we can finally start growing our crops, start living again”.
Down in the valley, Rustom Adlawan, 55, also counts his blessings. “It was not even water , just huge rocks and mud and it tore everything away”. He escaped with his 5 children and just the clothes on his back. More than 200 of his friends and neighbours were not so lucky. Where the community hall used to be, a large monument with the names of the victims now stands, surrounded by a field of destruction, a scar of white rocks and grey sand extending from the mountain far down towards the plains.
Rustom build himself a shelter on the grounds of the local primary school where sanitation facilities and clean water were provided by the Phillipine Red Cross with ECHO funding.
Some four hours drive away, in the province of Davao Oriental, more scars bare witness to the struction of the typhoon. The coastal mountains look like pin-cushions with millions of coconut tree trunks still standing but stripped of their leaves and fruits by the strong winds. Local farmers estimate that 90% of the cocnut trees are either dead or so damaged that they will bear few fruits in the future even if their leaves grow back. This raises serious questions about the future of the local villagers who are still struggling to clear all the debris and rebuild their homes. How will they live? What crops can they grow when seeds are gone, and cash crops like coconut plantations or bananas will need years to recover? Dr. Manny de Lara, a Philippino staff member of the British NGO “Merlin”, says that malnutrition levels amongst small children are a cause for concern: “We were able to conduct a survey in February and March this year which showed some worrying trends” he explained. “That’s why we approached the European Commission for funding to address some of the challenges before the situation becomes worse.” One of the most visible results of the ECHO/Merlin collaboration was the reconstruction of the Health Station in the Banrangay Taratay in Cateel town. Not more than a ruin after the typhoon it was rebuild and handed over to the local midwife, Wilma Dacuycuy, in March 2013, barely four months after the storm. It now provides primary health care to some 5,000 people, especially young mothers and their children.
Shelter, food, clean water and basic medical help are the main sectors that ECHO’s funding is addressing through projects implemented by partner organisations on the ground, bringing relief and hope for a better future to battered communities.