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Four weeks on living with flood in Rizal, Philippines, spirit still high

22 October 2009
When Typhoon Ketsana hit the northern Philippines on 26 September it unleashed more rain in six hours than would normally fall in an entire month. In the same week that communities in Sumatra were left reeling from the devastating earthquake in Padang, and Ketsana continued its trail of destruction across parts of Vietnam and Cambodia, over four million Filipinos were dealing with the aftermath of severe flooding in and around the nation’s capital.

Four weeks on, there are many areas where the floodwaters have yet to subside – leaving thousands of people facing the prospect of several long months sheltering in temporary evacuation centres.

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Arriving at the National High School in Angono a couple of hours south of Manila, the impact of the typhoon is immediately apparent. Home to close to 500 families whose houses were flooded or washed away, parts of the school grounds are still under several feet of water. Some evacuees are using improvised rafts to cross from one building to another, while others simply wade through the dirty floodwater.

Cheerful cries of ‘Welcome home ma’am!’ as I walk into the centre belie the difficult conditions people here are coping with. Mother of seven Alicia shows me the room she and her family are sharing with 18 other families. “When the typhoon hit the waters began to rise really quickly. I took my children here and then went back to save what I could from my home. I used a little styro boat to transport things, but I couldn’t save everything.

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“It’s really difficult staying here because we have to share this space with so many other people. We don’t have any privacy – my greatest wish is to be able to go home, but the floods destroyed everything.”

Despite their difficult circumstances, Alicia is typical of all the people I meet here – cheerfully doing their best to get in with their lives. One of several enterprising entrepreneurs at the school, she’s set up her own ‘sari-sari’ (literally ‘variety’) shop selling small packets of noodles and various sweets and supplies to other evacuees. She uses her earnings to buy extra rations of food and water for her family.

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As a community leader from her barangay or village, Alicia has also helped identify people most in need of support to take part in a distribution of hygiene kits that Oxfam has organised for today. Concerned about the lack of facilities and potential for disease to spread, we’ve come to distribute kits of items such as sleeping mats, soap, and underwear, as well as jerry cans to collect and store water in. These are also accompanied by small cash grants of 1,000 pesos (US$20) to help families purchase supplies to replace the items they lost in the floods.

As people queue to collect their goods, eager to see what the packs contain, Alicia stands at the registration desk helping people find their names on the list to complete the verification process. Once the distribution is over, Alicia wanders over for one final chat. “We’re so thankful to receive these things,” she says, smiling. “Everything we’ve been given today is useful, but most especially the cash grant – I’m going to use it to buy some more goods for my shop. That way I can develop my shop and earn some more money for my family.”

With Typhoon Lupit now looming on the horizon – scheduled to hit the northern Philippines towards the end of this week, and predictions that floodwaters around Angono are unlikely to subside anytime soon, families like Alicia’s face an uncertain future. Oxfam will be doing its best to make sure that they receive as much support as possible in the coming months.

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Note: This article was first released on 22 October 2009

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