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.”