In Haiyan's wake, aid agencies stretched thin across multiple Philippines emergencies

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 29 November 2013 07:30 GMT

A volunteer inspects relief goods inside the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) headquarters in Manila, on Nov. 28, 2013, before transporting them to a truck for distribution to the Typhoon Haiyan-battered central Philippines. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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Needs in a quake-hit area and conflict-affected city remain high, but funding shortages are threatening cuts in humanitarian assistance as donors and media focus on Typhoon Haiyan aftermath

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid agencies are urging donors and the media not to forget the humanitarian needs of the tens of thousands of families who remain displaced in two other emergencies in the Philippines, as attention in the past three weeks has been focused on the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

The Philippines had already been grappling with the impacts of two natural disasters and a conflict even before Haiyan - one of the strongest storms on record - hit on Nov. 8, killing 5,600, displacing 3.62 million and affecting 14.4 million people.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Oct. 15 killed 223 people, damaged more than 73,000 houses and affected 3.2 million in the tourist destinations of Bohol and nearby Cebu islands in central Philippines. About 300,000 people in the quake-hit region are in need of immediate food assistance, yet only 18 percent of a $46.8 million aid appeal has been received, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

“Urgent funding is needed to continue assistance to the affected population,” the OCHA report said.

Meanwhile in Zamboanga in the country’s south, more than 70,000 people remain displaced following fighting in September between government troops and Muslim rebels. Many are living in overcrowded evacuation centres and there are increased cases of malnutrition and deaths of children from dehydration, the U.N. said in its latest report

As of Nov.22, however, only $3.6 million out of a requested $24.4 million has been contributed, the U.N. said. 

Next week also marks the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Bopha, which hit southern Philippines on Dec 4, 2012. Aid agencies are working to help people recover from the disaster, which killed more than 1,000 people and affected 6 million.

“Over 400,000 people were made homeless by the earthquake in Bohol in October and the fighting in Zamboanga in September,” said International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joe Lowry, who has visited both places. 

“The majority of them are still living in tents, stadiums or other public buildings. We can’t forget them. We need to ensure that we have enough resources – financial, human and material – to give them the same standards of safety, dignity and security that we are aiming to provide those affected by Typhoon Haiyan,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

OVERSHADOWED BY HAIYAN 

$6 million emergency appeal by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to respond to earthquake-affected Bohol is also only 25 percent funded, the organisation’s regional spokesperson Patrick Fuller said.

“What this means is that unless funding comes in, we’re going to have to reduce the level of our commitment or spread the resources more thinly at a critical stage where we’re trying to shift from relief to recovery,” he said.

This includes starting up community-led housing programmes in which people are given tools, materials and technical support. While this allows the survivors to take the lead in their own recovery, it is also a time-consuming and costly process, Fuller said.

“Haiyan has totally overshadowed the crisis in Bohol. There are still almost 10,000 people still living in evacuation centres, and it’s critical that they’re not simply forgotten.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - which assists victims of war and internal violence and is responding to the Zamboanga emergency - echoed the worries.

“The situation in Zamboanga continues to be of major concern,” said Soaade Messoudi, ICRC’s communication coordinator in the Philippines. 

“Since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, media attention has been drawn by the huge humanitarian consequences in its aftermath, mainly in the provinces of Leyte and Samar. However, it is crucial that assistance continues to reach Zamboanga, where many people remain in dire need,” she added. 

Prone to disasters, the Philippines is an archipelago sitting along the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire" where earthquakes and volcanic activity is common. Also in the line of fire of major storms, about 20 typhoons strike the country each year, most hitting the north on the country’s main island Luzon.

Haiyan was the 24th typhoon to hit this year, and despite advance warning, the country was ill prepared for the monster storm, unprecedented in size.

“The scale of Haiyan has been so vast that it has put an enormous strain on the resources of aid agencies and government departments,” said Carin van der Hor, country director of Plan Philippines. 

“All of our staff, including those who were in Bohol after the earthquake, have been tirelessly working round the clock to respond to the typhoon in the worst affected areas.”

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