Three weeks after Typhoon Bopha devastated the southern Philippines, some five million people have been affected by the storm which, according to government estimates, left more than 1,000 people dead and 800 still missing.
Handicap International teams are distributing aid to survivors and mobilizing to bring specialized care to those least able to cope with the aftermath, especially people with disabilities, the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals.
“The situation we witness here is overwhelming,” says Catherine Vasseur, manager of Handicap International's operations in The Philippines. “We especially look to help people with disabilities, a majority of whom were already facing considerable difficulties prior to the natural disaster and are now living in deplorable conditions. Whether it's feeding themselves, gaining access to health care, or finding a place to sleep that is sheltered from the elements, everything has become problematic for the most fragile victims.”
Vasseur cites the case of 14-year old Christine, who has severe mobility issues as a result of cerebral palsy: “Christine is in need of medication, a wheelchair, and other items to make her more comfortable. Ideally, she should be seen by a physical therapist to prevent her physical condition from deteriorating further. We have met dozens of people in similar situations, but are only able to provide them with generic humanitarian aid at the moment. This is why we're doing all that we can to increase the scope of our activities as quickly as possible.”
In the 48 hours following the disaster, Handicap International launched assessment missions in Davao, one of the most severely affected areas. First aid distributions began immediately after the assessments. About 260 people with disabilities and their families were given material to set up temporary shelters, including tarps, mattresses, and blankets as well soap and washing basins. The organization is hoping to reach 2,500 additional families in the coming weeks.