In for the long haul

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

A DAY shy of two months since typhoon Pablo hit, government and relief organizations still cannot fully grasp how and where to start after the emergency first response phase.

Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes admitted as much during his presentation on the fourth day of the Liwanag World Festival on Creativity and Sustainability.

“The problem with the plantations,” he said, “we never thought this typhoon will hit us, so insurance is not in place.”

They’re still conducting consultations with the Department of Agriculture to design programs that will best respond to the needs of the agricultural sector, a big chunk of which are agrarian reform beneficiaries who are into growership or lease contracts.

“The first we can do is suspend amortization of loans with the Land Bank of the Philippines. The issue of banana plantations is something we still have to work on, we’re trying to restructure the loans.”

This goes with distribution of direct help maybe in the form of seedlings and inputs.

From conflict to first response

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is just as stumped at the moment.

While ICRC Mindanao Sub-delegation head Philippe Beauverd made it clear that their presence in the Philippines is to focus on areas with armed conflict particularly Cotabato and Zamboanga, they cannot stick to their mandate and ignore the pressing needs of the typhoon survivors.

He added that all their relief activities since after the December 4, 2012 typhoon was in close coordination with the Philippine National Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies.

“Before the typhoon, we had ready food and non-food assistance for 7,500 families for operations in Zamboanga and Cotabato,” Beauverd told Sun.Star Davao. “On the 5th of December, upon request of the PNRC, we immediately released 3,500 kits of food and non-food for Surigao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley.”

The supplies were given to the local chapters of the Red Cross for immediate distribution.

The first batch of kits was in the form of tarpaulins to provide temporary shelters.

Then came the one-month food supply consisting of rice and canned goods, basic household supplies like pots and pans, jerrycans (water containers), and mosquito nets, and hygiene kits – sanitary napkins, soaps, and toothbrushes included.

Followed by the setting up of a field clinic in Baganga, Davao Oriental to respond to the most urgent needs considering that almost all health facilities in the area were destroyed, including the district hospital in Cateel.

The ICRC reported that as of January 13, 2013, beneficiaries of food, household items and tarpaulins in New Bataan, Compostela Valley numbered around 56,000 persons, 16,000 in Lingig, Surigao del Sur, nearly 71,000 in Cateel, Davao Oriental, nearly 30,000 in Boston, and more than 111,000 persons in Baganga, both in Davao Oriental, for a total of more than 280,000 persons.

Days after the typhoon, their stocks for food assistance were quickly depleted and so they focused on non-food, which included nails, hammers, and wires, and pickaxes to help residents clean up and rebuild from the debris that were once their homes.

“We have since reconstituted our stocks and support the PNRC,” he added.
Last Friday, they deployed more truckloads of food and shelter kits again.

Their commitment as of now is to provide food and non-food assistance to up to 50,000 people until June.

MANPOWER REINFORCEMENT

The crisis cannot be solved within the next few weeks, the ICRC admits. Thus, not only have they reconstituted their supplies, they have also increased their manpower.

“When before we only had five expatriates here and around 35-40 Filipino workers, now we have between 20-30 expatriates going around and 150 Filipino workers in Baganga and Nabunturan alone,” Beauverd said.

This is aside from their regular work in the conflict areas where they attend to victims of conflict and their regular visits to prisons to ensure that prison conditions are humane.

With regards prisons and prisoners, what many do not know is that the provincial jail of Compostela Valley also sustained major damage during the typhoon leaving prisoners without water and electricity and tattered roofs above their heads. Materials for repair were donated for this by the ICRC.

Last December 26, too, they set up the basic health center unit in Baganga through the Japanese, Norwegian, German, Canadian, Hong Kong, and Finnish Red Cross Society, which operates like an outpatient department (OPD).

Made up of six white tents, basic medical consultations are done there, but treatment is through referrals, where the ICRC brings patients to hospitals were required.

“The idea is not to disrupt the usual system, but to work on what needs reinforcement,” Beauverd said.

The news that there is free medical consultation and referrals going on in Baganga is spreading far now, thus from the few hundreds they were getting after the center was set up, last January 28, they peaked at 5,000 outpatient consultations and referrals, Albert Madrazo, ICRC Davao sub-delegation communication officer, told Sun.Star.

Still assessing

Asked what they have in store after the five months of direct assistance that they committed, Beauverd said, this will all depend on the assessment of a team sent out to check on what can be worked on.

The decision on the kind of assistance is not in their hands.

But the team going around to assess what can be done has experts among them, Mendoza said, including some agronomists.

“We’re not a development organization,” Beauverd pointed out, “but we’re here to help.”

That help can be in the form of livelihood assistance, he said, distribution of seeds is also a possibility since they’ve done that in conflict areas.

“Specialists have just arrived and they are yet assessing what can be done,” he said.

What he can assure is that there will be a program to respond to the needs of the identified communities that are needing everyone’s help to rebuild their lives long after the committed five months of relief assistance until June.

“What I know is that people are in very, very, very difficult situations. Livelihoods have disappeared, coconuts are down, bananas are down. Some people have lost everything. It’s a catastrophe,” Beauverd said.

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