Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Philippines: Dealing with the aftermath of mudslides

Mt Mayon volcano looms high over Legazpi City. Those worst affected by mudslides lived on or near the slopes of the mountain

Despite a string of typhoons over several weeks starting in September 2006, no one expected the devastation that typhoon Reming (Durian) would cause to Albay Province in the eastern Philippines on 30 November 2006.

The worst hit communities were those on or near the slopes of Mt Mayon volcano which looms high over Legazpi, the provincial capital.

“I first saw the lightning, heard the thunder and then what seemed like an explosion,” Nenita Balatinsayo of Padang, Legazpi City, told IRIN. “It was the landslide, and the water and the mud and the rocks were pelting my legs and filling my house,” she said.

“I climbed up on the roof and was there for five hours. All the time,” she said, “I could hear the crying and yelling of people being buried and washed away by the mudslide.” Over 100 died nearby. The mudflow submerged entire villages with black volcanic debris and boulders and over 1,000 people in all were killed and 13,000 families displaced.

Abundio Nuñez Jr., operations officer of the Albay Provincial Public Safety and Management Office, told IRIN there was extensive damage to houses, crops, livestock and the fishing industry. A year and a half later, those whose houses and farmland were swept away by the mudslides are struggling the hardest to rebuild their lives.

According to Emily Kare, programme coordinator of the Albay Mabuhay Task Force of the provincial government of Albay, 3,500 families, some 10,000 people, can no longer live where they used to for fear of fresh mudslides. The provincial government is doing its best to resettle them in temporary shelters or newly built permanent homes 10-15km from their former dwellings.

We have gained in security, but lost our livelihoods and become more isolated, said Maria Victoria Maida. At Taisan resettlement site on high ground some 13km from Legazpi, Maida (known affectionately by her neighbours as “Big Mama”) is the camp leader for a group of some 317 families.

Displaced build their own homes

When we first arrived here, she said, we lived in temporary housing for five months but now at least 267 families have permanent homes provided by the provincial and national government with support from UN agencies and the humanitarian community. The residents themselves did much of the building work - and were paid through a World Food Programme (WFP) food-for-work arrangement.

In another camp, Amore resettlement site, Daniel Reola, chairman of the residents’ committee, told IRIN 131 families from Barangay Tagas and Barangay Bañag settled there initially in tents until the International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped them build temporary housing with WFP providing food-for-work.

Permanent houses are to be built at the Amore resettlement site by Operation Compassion, a Philippine non-governmental organisation (NGO), and private corporate partners Philippine Long Distance Company and Smart Communications. Under the arrangement, Operation Compassion will provide inputs and the displaced residents will do the work (supplemented by 20 skilled labourers) with the displaced paid in food for their work by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Unfortunately progress is slow. Each permanent house will be a duplex, shared by two families. So far ony two such houses are currently under construction. Twenty-five more are slated to be completed by October 2008. At that rate, it will be well into 2009 before all the residents get permanent homes. A fact sheet provided by the provincial government’s office shows just how challenging it is to resettle large communities. As of 31 January 2008, construction of 2,178 family shelters had not yet started.

Food shortages

With the last food distributions ending for most families in December 2007, excepting those on food-for-work arrangements, the displaced families in three camps visited by IRIN all complained of food shortages.

“We eat thee meals a day, but not three full meals, and we make sure the children get the most,” Beverly Rañada at the Anislag resettlement site told IRIN. “Less rice, less vegetables, less food and the prices keep on rising.”

Adds Maida: “I have 12 kids and we’re not having three meals a day, only two.”

High costs of transport, electricity

Many residents at Anislag as at the other camps, travel back to their former communities seeking work. But while they may make 100 or 200 pesos per day, if they can find work at all, transportation costs can be as much as 36 pesos, leaving them insufficient income to care for their families.

“Every day we think about how we are going to live the next day,” said Rañada, adding: “When the rain is heavy and it thunders our kids are still scared, they cry and cover their ears.”

Some small-scale livelihood efforts are springing up. “COPE, an urban poor organisation, has been trying to help us find work, providing 3,000 to 5,000 pesos as start-up capital for small shops `sari sari’ stores [small shops],” Maida said. She hopes to start a rice shop close to her house. Even the provincial agricultural office has been distributing seeds, but there is limited land available on which to plant them.

The government takes some pride in the fact that the houses have electricity but there is a drawback. “Yes, we have electricity here, but it is 1,800 pesos (US$45) per month for six families or about 300 pesos per family… just too much to afford,” Rañada told IRIN. “We would rather have it cut.”

Most residents of these resettlement communities echo the sentiments expressed by Daniel Reola: “Livelihoods are the biggest issue here,” he told IRIN. “At this stage livelihoods are more important than permanent houses as they sustain the people and their critical needs.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via
IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

Photo: Copyright