More than 350 people have been killed and hundreds more are missing after Typhoon Bopha hit the southern Philippines on December 4 and 5.
An estimated 200,000 people lost their homes and have been forced to take refuge in schools and airline hangers or build makeshift shelters. Responding to this emergency, Handicap International is taking part in the immediate humanitarian relief phase and assessing the population's needs. The Philippines is regularly hit by storms and Handicap International, which has been present in the country since 1985, has been able to call on its existing emergency response mechanisms.
“This typhoon was by far the worst storm the population has had to cope with this year,” said Catherine Vasseur, manager of Handicap International's operations in the Philippines. “The scale of the destruction is so huge it's extremely difficult or even impossible to access the worst affected areas. However, we are trying to make a detailed assessment of the situation and the population's needs in order to put in place a swift and effective response.”
Teams are currently carrying out the first assessments in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Butuan, the north island of Mindanao, and Davao. Handicap International's team in the Philippines has been trained to carry out emergency operations and to implement natural disaster risk reduction measures.
“We're working with other humanitarian operators, local authorities, and community organizations for people with disabilities to get the relief operations up and running as quickly as possible,” said Vasseur. “Our initial findings show that homes and other infrastructure in the region have suffered extensive damage from the storms' up to 125mph winds and landslides triggered by heavy rainfall.”
During humanitarian emergencies following natural disasters, community and institutional support structures are often disrupted and essentials like food, clean water, shelter, and health care become much more difficult to access. Handicap International will focus its efforts on ensuring the most vulnerable individuals, such as people with disabilities and health problems, the elderly, and pregnant women, are able to access these services.
“We're planning to send teams tasked with ensuring vulnerable people can access essential services,” says 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 under the best possible conditions.”