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PHILIPPINES: Evacuees stranded as evacuation centres closure in Ketsana-affected area

MANILA, 16 February 2010 (IRIN) – Nearly five months after tropical storm Ketsana and two typhoons ravaged northern Philippines, evacuation centres are starting to close but thousands of people are still displaced, aid workers say.

“The situation is definitely getting worse and people’s coping mechanisms are being stretched to the limit,” Paula Brennan, Oxfam’s Ketsana response manager, told IRIN.

“Evacuation centres are closing for a number of reasons. The churches, for example, closed [for] Christmas mass; the schools were closed when classes started,” she said.

On 26 September, tropical storm Ketsana inundated 80 percent of Manila on the island of Luzon, home to some 12 million people.

A week later, Typhoon Parma made landfall, drastically affecting outlying regions that were already heavily flooded. Typhoon Mirinae wreaked additional havoc at the end of October. The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) says more than 10 million people were affected.

As of 30 January, 24,318 people or 5,253 families were being hosted in 54 evacuation centres, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, the actual numbers of displaced are thought to be higher, since the figure does not include those staying with relatives.

Some 230,000 homes have been either completely or partially destroyed, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Fishing ground turned marshland

The Laguna de Bay in Luzon is the largest lake in the Philippines, and the main livelihood source for the fishing communities living along its banks.

“My home was totally wiped out. We cannot go back there because the government has declared the land uninhabitable,” she said.

Since September, she and her three children have been relocated three times.

The Laguna Lake Development Authority estimates that originally 400,000 families in the area were affected by the onslaught of the storms.

“First, we occupied a public school, but we had to move when classes started. We were then moved to a basketball court… but we had to leave when the residents wanted to use it,” said Maravilla.

Maravilla now lives in a small shack on a poultry farm that was converted into an evacuation centre with 47 other families.

The makeshift centre has no electricity; there are two running taps and two toilets. Oxfam is building four showers and toilets.

“Our life before was not easy, but we were able to survive. We did not have to live like this. At least I had my own house, my own toilet,” said Maravilla, who is also missing her daily income of at least US$10 from fishing.

“I used this [money] as revolving capital and managed our daily expenses. Now, I have nothing to live on,” she said.

Others in the centre have turned to scavenging and re-selling aluminium cans and paper.
Teresita Cuervas, 70, said: “I make about $2 [daily] from scavenging. This used to supplement our income from fishing, but now, this is all I have.”

Lack of funds

The Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) released in December by the government, the World Bank and other agencies, estimated that $942.9 million was required to meet recovery needs, while $3.48 billion was needed for reconstruction.

“Under normal conditions, shelter was already a problem, but the extent of the devastation [wrought] by [Ketsana] was simply overwhelming,” Edin Garde, programme manager for the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in the Philippines, told IRIN.

The UN launched a flash appeal for $74 million in October 2009, which was revised a month later to $143.7 million.

However, as of 16 February 2010, only 39.2 percent has been funded, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS). Shelter, along with education, protection and economic recovery, are the least funded.

“Funding shelter is very expensive. It costs about $543 to build one transitory house and $1,489 for a more permanent structure,” said Garde. “It is much easier to fund relief efforts like food, for those who want to reach out to more people and see immediate results.”

“You cannot build a structure on land without first assuring its safety conditions, and this takes time,” Garde said.

“The key is a sustainable source of funding, so as not to depend on the donors,” said Warren Ubongen, shelter cluster coordinator with UN-HABITAT.

“We are now looking at bilateral strategies to mobilize resources. Private institutions like banks are being tapped to donate some repossessed properties,” he said.

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