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Nick Harrop reports from the Philippines that aid efforts are in full swing one month after super-typhoon.
One month since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, you can see its impact from the moment you land on Leyte island. The roof of Tacloban airport has been blown off. The baggage carousel has been washed away, leaving only its ripped base underneath. The runway is covered in patches of standing water, with wood and corrugated iron swept to one side so that planes can land.
Driving south through Tacloban, you don’t see a single building that hasn’t been damaged. Most homes have been flattened. For miles, there are little more than twisted steel shells or haphazard piles of wood. Whole buildings have been swept hundreds of metres from their original locations.
But there’s also a remarkable sense of activity: carpenters sawing toppled coconut trees, workers in hard hats fixing roofs, bulldozers clearing the rubble. One month on, it is extraordinary to see the energy and determination with which people are rebuilding their lives.
In support of national Church efforts, Caritas agencies have been on the frontline of the relief effort. In the first month, Caritas has reached hundreds of thousands of people, providing food, shelter, clean water, hygiene kits, tools, latrines and cash-for-work schemes through which people can clear debris and rebuild their lives.
Armoud Badion, who lives in the town of Palo, has received support from Caritas agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
“This was the strongest typhoon I’ve experienced,” he said. “It took away many lives, and most of the houses here were destroyed. Our first instinct was to protect our children. I felt terrified because I thought it was my time to die. Afterwards I realised it wasn’t and that I am important on this earth for the sake of my family.
“Today I have received tarpaulins from CRS. We cannot buy these locally, either because they are not available or because they are overpriced. I am going to use them to fix and roof and build a wall to keep my children safe. I feel very happy. All the people here are happy. I am thankful to CRS and all the people who are helping us.”
While the destruction on Leyte island has been widely reported in the media, the typhoon also caused severe damage in other parts of the Philippines – including in some of the most remote islands. Caritas Switzerland has delivered food, shelter kits and tools to hundreds of families on Hilantagan Island, which is only reachable on tiny fishing-boats.
Pablio Elliut, a local councillor on the island, said: “Caritas have brought us rice, buckets, nails, sardines, soap, shampoo, hammers, saws and tarpaulins. They are very useful. We have put the tarpaulins on our houses and used the tools to carry out repairs. People here are very happy to have received all of this.”
Throughout the Philippines, the Caritas response has been led by an army of local volunteers.
Jasper, a 17-year-old volunteer supporting Caritas Philippines in Palo, said, “When relief came to Palo, we organised ourselves into teams. We have been packing goods and giving food, water and clothing to the most affected – especially those who cannot provide themselves. All the volunteers here were also affected by the typhoon, but we help others.
“When you deliver aid, people shout, not because they are angry but because they are glad. They know we are from Palo as well. We are helping them, we are helping each other. They feel relieved that somebody still cares about them. It’s really true that when someone needs help, there will always be providence from God. We are really blessed.
“In the Bible it says when you give something it will be given back a hundredfold by God. First and foremost, I am very thankful to all the people aboard who have been helping the Philippines so much. You will always be in our prayers.”
Some highlights of Caritas relief efforts in the Philippines
Caritas Philippines and Caritas Germany have delivered over 20,000 tarpaulins in eight dioceses, along with ropes, nails and tools for shelter kits.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) have distributed a total of 30,156 tarpaulins for 25,921 households (129,000 people), 11,381 nail kits for 10,337 households, and 8,070 hygiene kits and hygiene promotion. They have also set up 12 water bladders, providing clean water to 13,445 households (67,225 people). 21 Hygiene Promoters have been trained.
Caritas Switzerland have distributed food, shelter and emergency supplies to 7,000 families (35,000 people) in the municipalities of Santa Fe and Madridejos on Bantayan island.
Caritas Austria, working through Dioceses and local NGOs, have distributed food to 2,600 families (13,000 people) in Iloilo and Negros Occidental.
Caritas Philippines have also distributed more than 90,000 food packs, supported by Caritas Manila and other dioceses in the Philippines as well as international Caritas agencies.