Thu, Feb 21, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Typhoon Bopha gives the Philippines a taste of ‘new normal’

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian, NEW BATAAN, Philippines

Typhoon-related costs in 2009, the year the commission was created, amounted to 2.9 percent of GDP, she said, and have been rising each year since then.

“Extreme weather is becoming more frequent, you could even call it the new normal,” Sering said. “Last year, [Bopha] hurt us very much. If this continues we are looking at a big drain on resources.”

Human activity-related “slow onset impacts” included over-fishing, over-dependence on certain crops, over-extraction of ground water and an expanding population (the Philippines has about 95 million people and a median age of 23).

“Altogether, this could eventually lead to disaster,” Sering said.

Bopha presented an enormous test for emergency services. Oxfam workers in Davao City, working with the UN, local non-governmental organization (NGO) partners and the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), quickly moved to the area to offer assistance.

Oxfam has committed US$2 million in Bopha relief funds on top of its annual US$4 million Philippines budget. However, the Bopha Action Plan, coordinated by the UN, which set an emergency funding target of US$76 million, has received only US$27 million so far.

The overall post-Bopha response has comprised three phases — immediate help, including the provision of shelter and clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; rebuilding and relocation; and mitigation and prevention measures.

“The first thing was to provide water bladders to the evacuation center in New Bataan. We concentrated on providing emergency toilets and water systems,” said Kevin Lee, response manager for the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), a group of five local NGOs. “We had a 15-strong team from Oxfam and the HRC, digging holes and putting in plastic pipes. Next we started looking at emergency food and shelter.”

“The devastation was worse than anything I have ever seen. Up to 90 percent of the coconut trees were just flattened. That’s the local economy on the ground and that’s really difficult to fix quickly,” Lee said.

However, his team’s swift action had positive results, he added. There have been no water-borne diseases in New Bataan and no outbreak of cholera.

The consortium has now moved on to longer-term projects, such as building a waste management plant, setting up markets at relocation sites and working on disaster risk reduction programs.

The Lumbia resettlement project outside Cagayan de Oro, in northern Mindanao, provides an example of what can be achieved.

Here, victims of Tropical Storm Washi, which swept through the area in 2011, killing 1,200 people and causing nearly US$50 million of damage, have been offered newly built homes on land owned by the local university.

The Lumbia project’s slogan is: “Build a community, not just homes,” and it has gone down well with displaced villagers.

“It’s better here than before. It’s more elevated, we don’t have to worry about floods,” said Alexie Colibano, a Lumbia resident. “Before we were living on an island in the river. Now we feel more secure.”

About 15,000 Bopha victims remain in evacuation centers, including in the New Bataan stadium grandstand. In total, about 200,000 are still living with friends or relatives.

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