Tropical storm Washi hit the South of the Philippines in December 2011, devastating the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
The storm forced thousands of people to move to evacuation centers. Five months later, the population is still struggling to deal with the aftermath. Handicap International is improving accessibility and conditions within those centers and continues the support to the most vulnerable.
Handicap International has worked in the Philippines since 1985, and was able to begin a massive identification and a comprehensive assessment of 300 vulnerable Washi-affected individuals after the storm. Our teams visited evacuation centers, transitory sites and affected communities. Pregnant and or isolated women, sick people, the elderly and people with disabilities are considered very vulnerable, as it is precisely these groups that find themselves in very precarious situations following a disaster.
Twenty percent of those afflicted were given assistive devices, such as canes and wheelchairs, and 12 percent received medical referrals, for instance for eye and physical exams. To further improve the access to services, several modifications were constructed at evacuation centers.
“Many houses were destroyed,” explains Cahterine Vasseur, Philippines Program Director for Handicap International. “The local government decided to transfer the homeless people to different Evacuation Centers. Handicap International had sent a team to those centers in order to identify accessibility problems. In ‘Tent City 2', in the Calaanan Area, we noticed that the nearby bridge over the river was unsafe. It was made out of coconut trees and was therefore very unstable. Nevertheless the people living in the camp used it on a daily basis to go the toilet, do the laundry and to find wood at the river. According to residents, many accidents, especially involving elderly people, happened on that bridge. Many of these accidents resulted in bruises, wounds and sprains. The day after Handicap International's meeting with the camp manager, seven community volunteers started work on the bridge." Today, between 50 and 100 people cross the bridge every day.
“All these small successes were possible as a result of Handicap International's lobbying to other NGOs and its coordination with local government agencies,” Vasseur explains. “In fact, we were able to encourage the Committee on Permanent Housing to provide ten slots and the Ecoville-Lumbia Management to accommodate more or less 20 vulnerable persons, in their respective permanent relocation sites. Not only did this coordination result in the provision of housing, but we were able to enhance such an endeavor by encouraging the Committee to take into consideration the accessibility of houses and prioritization of persons with disabilities on house assignment.”
Continuing and expanding support to the most vulnerable
“To ensure that vulnerable persons and their family members are provided with essential integrated assistance, the team in the coming months will strive to expand its presence by working with the local government, school institutions, and other stakeholders,” Vasseur says. Her teams will deliver disability orientations, trainings, and psychosocial activity support.
Handicap International will also set-up Disability and Vulnerability Focal Point (DVFP) in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and surrounding areas, to ensure the delivery of disability services, such as information, provision of assistive and adaptive devices and psychosocial support. She adds, “we want to make sure that vulnerable persons are well prepared and know how to behave in future disaster situations.”