Aid reaching more areas of Philippines

By Chris Hufstader
In Daanbantayan, northern Cebu, Oxfam distributed water purification chemicals along with blankets, sleeping mats, and mosquito nets. Photo by Jane Beesley/Oxfam.

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It’s been almost two weeks since typhoon Haiyan blasted across the Philippines. This storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) is one of the largest to ever hit a land mass.

Oxfam is reporting that our response to the disaster in Leyte, Cebu, and Eastern Samar is building momentum, and we are reaching more communities with clean water, and equipment to address sanitation and hygiene. We also continue to assess more and more areas hit by the storm, and analyze what it will take to assist people in the poorest areas to recover.

A few highlights of the response in the last few days:

  • Oxfam has distributed blankets, water purification chemicals, and hygiene items (like soap) to 800 families in northern Cebu. Helping people get clean water and soap for washing their hands is essential to avoiding water-borne diseases that can potentially kill far more people than the typhoon did.
  • Two days ago we reported that Oxfam helped repair the main water treatment system for the city of Tacloban. Since then we have learned that the main pipeline is now providing water for 276,400 people in the city (this is about 80 percent of the population).
  • Sanitation is just as important as clean water: Oxfam is supporting local people to clear debris, and dig latrines and sewage pits to reduce the likelihood of epidemics. Participants can then buy what they need in local markets, which is good for the local economy.

Temporary employment can help storm survivors meet their needs in the short and medium term, but Oxfam is also listening to what farming and fishing families tell us they need to support themselves for the long haul. Our team working in the northern tip of Cebu in the area of Daanbantayan report that the typhoon destroyed the local fish farm, and many fishing boats. They encountered a local fisherman who has been able to get out on the water, and donated a portion of his catch to a soup kitchen providing meals to his fellow survivors. Oxfam staff in this area are looking at different options for helping fishermen get material to repair their boats and gear so they can get back to work.

Rice production in danger

Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organization are reporting that typhoon Haiyan has damaged one third of the rice crop normally harvested in November in the Philippines.

“…harvesting of the 2013 main season paddy crop, representing 55 percent of the annual production, was well advanced, while planting of the mostly irrigated 2013/14 secondary season crop had started” when the storm hit the Philippines, according to a report issued by the FAO on 19 November.

Five key areas crucial for rice production in the Philippines were severely affected – most farmers probably lost their crop.

Farmers surviving the storm will need help to plant in December. Many will have lost all their seeds, tools, and other equipment. “Missing the next rice planting season in December would leave millions of Filipinos without their staple food for daily consumption as well as a huge loss of income and increased debt for farmers,” reads Oxfam’s press release, issued today.

It’s another race against time. Oxfam is calling for countries providing assistance to the Philippines to fund the agricultural component of the UN Haiyan Action Plan (p. 10) so that farmers can get back to work. It may be a crucial means to avoid a major food supply deficit in the Philippines.