In flood-hit Philippines, UNHCR aid offers a glimmer of hope

News Stories, 28 December 2011

© UNHCR/A.Jain
UNHCR's Rasul Kulat with beneficiaries Imelda Angud and Dairi Bansil in the ruins of Bansil's house in Mandulog village, northern Mindanao island.

MANDULOG, Philippines, December 28 (UNHCR) After surviving decades of conflict, Imelda Anugud never expected it would be the wrath of nature that finally destroyed her home.

"We were asleep when the river began to flood our home around midnight," said the 43-year-old mother of three girls, recalling how, just over a week ago, tropical storm Washi hit the village she has always called home.

"We left everything, crossed the river and ran for higher ground," the shaken woman said. "Within two hours, our home and the bridge we had crossed to get to safety were washed away."

On Wednesday the first glimmer of recovery arrived when UNHCR became the first aid agency to deliver relief supplies to her mountain village east of Iligan city in the Philippines' southern Mindanao island.

This is not the first time residents of this largely Moro (Muslim) community have been displaced. In 2010, the most recent chapter in the long-running conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government sent them packing. Just over a month ago, a family feud, known here as a rido, which can be epic and deadly, forced them to flee their village.

The UN refugee agency began working with communities affected by the Mindanao conflict in May 2010. Shortly after tropical storm Washi hit, it joined the UN response to support government relief efforts, as the lead agency for the protection cluster. UNHCR decided to target its first emergency assistance to communities that have suffered a double whammy weakened by years of conflict and now hit by floods.

On December 23, the agency started flying in supplies from its warehouses in Dubai. Plastic sheeting was distributed within 24 hours to provide emergency shelter for at least 10,000 people who have lost their homes to the floods, among the worst ever to hit the Philippines.

Other supplies include some 10,000 blankets, 4,000 jerry cans, and more than 2,000 kitchen sets (cooking pots, pans, bowls, knives, cups and cutlery), each of which will help a family of five prepare their own food.

"This plastic sheet is the first step in rebuilding our lives and our homes," said Imelda's friend and neighbour, Dairi Bansil, who also has three children.

Until last weekend, the Baug and Kapai rivers, which meet in this mountain village, had never overflowed the embankment walls. But once they did, landslides cut the village off from the rest of the country, and government officials did not even know these highlands had been affected.

Even for a community hardened by years of conflict, these floods were more devastating than anything else they have experienced. Their three-room school was washed off its foundations and deposited 100 metres away.

"I don't know what we are going to do. I am still in shock and living a day at a time," Dairi said. "I may leave this village because of the trauma I am facing. "We lost everything: our home, my kitchen equipment, clothes, absolutely everything."

Distribution of UNHCR's relief items is done through national non-governmental organizations who have been working with the communities for years.

"In helping communities recover from conflict, our approach has been to fund quick, relatively low-cost projects (sewing centres, fishing boats with nets, water wells, and market stalls) that involve entire communities," Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR's representative in the Philippines said last week. The agency plans similar projects to help rebuild fragile communities after the floods.

UNHCR staffers were stunned at the scale of the damage wrought by tropical storm Washi, known locally as Sendong.

"I have been working with communities who are forcibly displaced by the armed conflict affecting Mindanao for the past decades," said UNHCR field associate Rasul Kulat. "My own relatives have been forcibly displaced in the past. But these floods have had a more severe consequence to these villagers than most of the conflicts."

By Arjun Jain
In Mandulog Village, Mindanao, Philippines

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Emergency Response

UNHCR is committed to increasing its ability to respond to complex emergency situations.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

An estimated 13 million people were affected when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8. Thousands were killed and about 3 million are believed to be displaced - some of them living in evacuation sites, others on the ruins of their former homes. Tacloban City in Leyte province was one of the hardest-hit areas. A week after the typhoon made landfall, large parts of its coast remain flattened and piles of debris still line the streets. Working with the Philippines government and UN and NGO partners, UNHCR is airlifting emergency supplies for thousands of survivors. The agency is delivering tents, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and other critical aid. It is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government, working to identify vulnerable people and ensuring that they have access to basic assistance and services. UNHCR has appealed for US$15 million to meet these critical needs. UNHCR is now present in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte province, as well as Guiuan in Eastern Samar province.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

Photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award among other commendations, is on the ground in Pakistan.

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: Leaving the Darkness Play video

Philippines: Leaving the Darkness

When typhoon Haiyan swept Tacloban City, it took with it what people need the most to see their way through any hard time: light. UNHCR has provided people of the Philippines with relief items that are helping make a difference. Relief items such as solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area.
Philippines: Picking up the Pieces.Play video

Philippines: Picking up the Pieces.

In Tanauan, one of the coastal areas worst hit by Typhoon Haiyun, people are being given tents and assistance while they start rebuilding their homes and lives.