By Julien Anseau, Asia Region Communications Manager
Julien, who has joined ChildFund’s emergency response team on the ground in the Philippines, provides a firsthand view of the damage wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in Ormoc, 60 miles southwest of Tacloban, where ChildFund have been working with children for many years and is now focusing its response.
As the ferry from Cebu pulls into Ormoc, the devastation before me is unbelievable. Buildings and houses have been flattened, electricity pylons blown down, cars turned over, palm trees ripped apart. As I disembark, people walk toward me holding out their hands and asking for food. I note the long lines of people desperate to board the ferry back to Cebu, as many try to leave this hard-hit island.
My first destination is the coastal community of Naungan. Children are on the streets, fetching water, looking for food or just hanging around doing nothing. I meet Sunny, a barefoot 13-year-boy who is sponsored through ChildFund. “I was in the school (evacuation center) with my family when the storm hit,” he tells me. “The wind was furious and howling. The noise was deafening. It went on for hours. It was dark outside and the school was shaking. I was very scared. Everyone was screaming and crying and praying. I could hear houses being smashed away and I thought the school would be next. When the storm ended, we went outside and could not believe the destruction. It was the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive.”
As in other parts of Ormoc, 90 percent of the houses in this coastal community have been completely blown away. There is no electricity, and we’re hearing that power likely will not be restored for four months. All schools are closed and are in use as evacuation centers for the thousands who no longer have homes to return to. Everywhere I go, people are going hungry and asking for food. There is a huge need for rice, a staple of the Filipino diet. Noodles and canned food are also needed. Food aid is only just reaching Ormoc, and it’s only trickling in.
I head back into town. There are long lines of people waiting for fuel and food, adding to the chaos. As I walk along the crowded main street littered with debris, a voice calls out, “Hey, ChildFund.” I turn to see a young woman. It turns out she recognized my green T-shirt. Michelle, 18, is also sponsored through ChildFund. She tells a similar story to Sunny’s. Her house has been badly destroyed and her dad is desperately looking for construction materials to fix it. There is a huge need for roof tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in Ormoc, as the rain continues to come down, making living conditions miserable. Pneumonia and flu are already major concerns, particularly among children.
Next, I meet Manny, 21, who participates in ChildFund’s youth programs. He shows me his house in the area of San Isidro, where ChildFund serves 144 children. “This is my house,” he says when we arrive. “This is how I found it after the storm. Everything is lost, everything!”
As ChildFund responds in Ormoc, we know that children are particularly vulnerable in disaster situations. Many children are wondering the streets unaccompanied, while their parents look for food and water. Children who have survived this typhoon have lost their sense of security; their world has been turned upside down. The need for psychosocial support is great.
Late last week, ChildFund has opened its first Child-Centered Space in Ormoc. These are safe havens for children to come together, take part in structured activities and, for a few hours, forget the typhoon and just enjoy being children again. I learn that 114 children of all ages have come to play, draw and sing. For the first time since the typhoon hit, smiles appear on their faces. These activities help children deal with trauma and restore some normal routines to their lives. ChildFund also provides food to the children.
As we look ahead to the long-term needs in the Philippine islands battered by the storm, we see a huge need for rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods. Yet, local officials and communities fear Ormoc will be overlooked and that aid will bypass them because of pressing needs in nearby Tacloban.
On the day of my visit, it continues to rain and it’s getting dark, hampering relief operations. The people of Ormoc are bracing themselves for another uncomfortable night. For thousands of young people like Sunny, Michelle and Manny, it means going to bed hungry, sleeping in damp conditions and reliving the nightmare of one week ago when the storm struck.
ChildFund has launched the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to respond to both immediate and long-term needs in the Philippines. Relief-phase interventions will include distribution of food and non-food items, responding to immediate health needs and establishing Child-Centered Spaces. The recovery phase will include restoring livelihoods and focusing on education, health and nutrition of children, while strengthening community-based child protection systems and conducting disaster risk reduction and emergency response training and capacity building.
Learn more about ChildFund’s response and how you can help.