Oxfam scales up to meet the needs of hardest-hit families in the Philippines

By Oxfam
Tyhpoon survivors receive vouchers for Oxfam hygiene and water kits in Mancilang, Bantayan Island. Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam.

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It has been nearly three weeks since Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, slammed into the Philippines, killing 5,500 people, displacing more than four million others, and damaging or destroying more than one million homes.

While the death toll continues to mount, Oxfam is pushing deeper into the hardest-hit areas of the island nation, reaching families in desperate need of aid. Recent assessments of four municipalities south of ravaged Tacloban revealed vast destruction of homes and livelihoods and an enormous need for shelter, food, and hygiene supplies.

Oxfam’s focus remains on Eastern Samar, Leyte, and Cebu, but we're now expanding our initial life-saving response—providing water, sanitation, and food—to take account of longer-term needs as people return home to communities decimated by the storm. There, families will continue to face daunting challenges.

“The sea rose five to six meters before ramming into coastal towns and farmlands like a train plowing through a street of dolls houses,” said Shaheen Chugtai, a policy advisor for Oxfam, who traveled with  fellow responders to the expanding frontline of the relief effort. “We pass farmlands sodden with seawater and studded with coconut trees snapped in half like match sticks, their missing trunks often blocking rural roads, snapping power lines, or crushing flimsy shacks.”

On the island of Leyte, in the coastal town of Palo, workers are still pulling bodies from the mounds of rubble where lively neighborhoods once stood, said Chugtai. ”Hundreds are still missing: most are assumed dead,” said Chugtai.

Part of Oxfam’s immediate response in Palo was to dig a set of 10 pit toilets, protected with roofs and walls, at a high school where homeless families have taken shelter.  Making sure that people have access to clean water and sanitation services is critical in preventing the outbreak and spread of disease following disasters.

The typhoon affected a third of the country’s rice-growing regions, and hit just as farmers were harvesting the crop from the main growing season. Unless planting can begin this December, millions of people could potentially be without their staple food and farmers could face a huge loss of income.

“Failing to immediately provide seeds, fertilizer, and tools will put millions of people at risk of severe hunger in the coming months, compounding the impact of the devestation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, “ said Justin Morgan, Oxfam’s country director in the Philippines. Oxfam teams working in Eastern Samar and Leyte, two of the key rice-producing areas, are supporting farmers in clearing and restoring the land.

In the coming weeks, it will be essential to get seeds and tools to farmers, provide fodder for remaining livestock, and support fishing communities in rebuilding boats and repairing nets. Oxfam has already been negotiating with seed wholesalers to help farmers restore their livelihoods.

Other parts of Oxfam’s response, which has reached tens of thousands of people, include:

  • The installation of two 5,000-liter water bladders in Tacloban and arranging with the government’s water department to fill them regularly.
  • Providing chainsaws to help clear debris
  • Distributing food to families in return for their help in clearing debris

To help meet people’s longer-term recovery needs, Oxfam plans to distribute 9,000 wheelbarrows and 30,000 different kinds of tools for farming, rebuilding, and clearing debris. And as survivors rebuild their existing businesses and work to establish new ones, Oxfam plans to be there to help them.