Philippines: Typhoon Bopha death toll passes 350, Handicap International assesses needs of survivors.
Over 350 people have been killed and hundreds more reported missing after Typhoon Bopha hit the southern Philippines on the night of 4 to 5 December 2012. Within hours of the typhoon striking, more than 200,000 people had been made homeless and 170,000 people had taken refuge in hangars, schools and makeshift shelters. Responding to this emergency, Handicap International is taking part in the immediate humanitarian relief phase and is currently assessing the population’s needs.
The Philippines are regularly hit by storms and Handicap International’s teams, which have been present in the country since 1985, have been able to call on their existing emergency response mechanisms. According to Catherine Vasseur, manager of Handicap International’s operations in the Philippines, “This typhoon was by far the worst storm the population has had to cope with this year. The scale of the destruction is so huge it’s extremely difficult or even impossible to access the worst affected areas. A lot of people are still missing but we really need to make a detailed assessment of the situation and the population’s needs in order to put in place a swift and effective response. This is why we’re currently focusing our efforts on assessment operations.”
Handicap International’s team in the Philippines has been trained to carry out emergency operations and to implement natural disaster risk reduction measures. “Our teams are currently carrying out the first assessments in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, in Butuan, in the north of the island of Mindanao and in Compostella Valley. We’re working with partner disabled people’s organisations and all humanitarian operators and local authorities to get the relief operations up and running as quickly as possible. Initial findings suggest that homes and infrastructure have suffered extensive damage from winds of up to 200 km/h, as well as landslides triggered by heavy rainfall.”
During humanitarian emergencies affecting tens of thousands of people, community and institutional support structures are often disrupted, further increasing the vulnerability of already frail individuals. Essentials like food, water, shelter and care rapidly become more difficult to access, and Handicap International will focus its efforts on ensuring the most vulnerable individuals are able to access these services. “We’re going to send out teams tasked with ensuring vulnerable people, and especially people with disabilities, can access essential services, based on the results of the assessments currently being conducted,” explains Catherine Vasseur. “We’ve already established a presence in the affected regions and we’re on good terms with the population and local authorities, so we’re well placed to play a key role in implementing a humanitarian relief operation which takes everyone into account, particularly the most vulnerable. We want to limit the already disastrous impact of this storm and help people get their lives back together and on their feet again under the best possible conditions.”
New Document: A STUDY ON THE DISABILITY INCLUSION PROCESS IN THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE TO TROPICAL STORM WASHI
While natural disasters affect a large number of individuals, PWD tend to be more affected than others during such situations and often face bigger challenges in order to cope with the situation and survive. Due to their specific situations, they risk being excluded and invisible during response activities, and they often face additional barriers in accessing support and relief efforts. In an emergency context, their original vulnerability is greatly compounded, bringing about the risk of their vulnerability increasing.
PWD also have specific needs that are not always taken into account by response activities. Although they have the very same basic needs as everyone else, meeting these specific needs may be critical to prevent their condition from deteriorating and allow them equal access to basic emergency relief. Examples of specific needs can include the need for assistive devices or technical aids, additional nutrition requirements, medical care specific to certain conditions, adapted physical environments, and the like.
Handicap International with the support of the Australian Government agency conduct a study to provide a broad picture of what the disability inclusion process was like in the Washi response, examining how the immediate response took into account the specific situation and needs of PWD as well as the current attitudes and perceptions surrounding disability inclusion in emergencies. The results gleaned from the study and their analysis was utilized to formulate seven recommendations towards the improved inclusion of disability in subsequent disaster response.
- Improve awareness and understanding of disability
- Increase capacities for disability inclusive emergency response
- Improve data collection on disability
- Involve PWD
- Create referral systems for the specific needs of PWD
- Regulate and monitor disability inclusion
- Increase advocacy at all levels
Click here for the full report.
BRINGING HUMANITARIAN RELIEF TO THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST
The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis caused by typhoon Washi on Mindanao Island – in the South of the Philippines – caught everybody off guard, killing over 1,000 people. Handicap International teams present on site are responding to the emergency.
“No one was expecting this, explains Catherine Vasseur, head of Handicap International operations in the country. Tropical storms are common in the country, but the places hit this time – Cagayan de Oro and Iligan city – are not normally affected, and the people living there were not prepared for such a disaster.” The combination of extreme rainfalls and high tide led rivers to overflow; creating massive streams of water which devastated tens of kilometres of land.
One week after the floods, people are still in shock and relief operations still struggling to organize effectively. Handicap International has mobilized all available resources immediately to conduct an initial assessment of the situation in Cagayan De Oro where emergency kits (hygiene and emergency shelter kits, mobility aids ...) from Manila should arrive in the next few days. "In times like those, you always want things to go faster and we do everything we can so that relief is available promptly and distributed to those who need it most, says Catherine. But the organization of humanitarian operations takes time. It's a very frustrating situation."
The human scale and the specific mandate of Handicap International allows the association to deploy very quickly but also to specifically target the most affected people, including people with disabilities and people made vulnerable by their isolation, age, gender, or social status. Through its participation to the international humanitarian response Handicap International intends to ensure that aid actually reaches those who need it most.
"Everyone is mobilized"
Present in the Philippines for over 20 years, Handicap International had established rapid response procedures that were activated after the disaster. The association also relies on its knowledge of the region and the availability of its staff to maximize its responsiveness and efficiency. "Everyone is mobilized. On the day of the disaster I received calls from all the staff, which was on leave for Christmas holidays, and made itself available to organize our response. Even people who had worked with us in the past contacted me to offer their assistance."
Beyond the immediate response, the evaluation carried out these past days will determine the action of the association in the coming months including the opportunity to set up disability and vulnerability focal points to ensure the access of all to humanitarian aid.
"The problem is that those who are physically weak can hardly go to evacuation centres and access humanitarian aid. It's paradoxical, but it is often those who need it the most who struggle to receive assistance. We are determined to change this situation and we will do what it takes to assist those persons and to ensure that our partners in the humanitarian response take everybody into account."