Oxfam: Poorest people left behind by Philippines Typhoon Response

By Oxfam America

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Oxfam has reached 550,000 people with relief; UN efforts shorted by lack of funding

MANILA—The huge humanitarian response in the aftermath of November’s super typhoon in in the Philippines saved thousands of lives, reports Oxfam, but three months on, the poorest coconut farmers, traders and fisher people are being left out of the recovery effort.

Global relief and development organization Oxfam announced today it has reached almost 550,000 people with relief, including clean water to more than 200,000 people in Tacloban, by supporting the government to repair and fix broken pipes. Oxfam has provided people with hygiene kits, sanitation services, cash support, water kits, rice seed, shelter materials, kits for pregnant women, hygiene education and cleated waste and debris. However, integral parts of the nation’s economy—farmers, traders and fishing communities—are struggling.

And latest figures show zero funding has been allocated to the UN for coconut workers and fishing communities, while the Philippines government has been slow to deliver the agricultural and reconstruction support it has promised. Sixty percent of small-scale coconut farmers lived in poverty before the typhoon hit and are now surviving on food aid or cash support.

More than one million families living in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines were part of the thriving coconut industry but their source of income has been decimated and they are now largely dependent on aid. More than 33 million coconut trees were destroyed by 195mph winds and millions of trees will take between six to eight years to grow back.

Farmers not only face years of lost income but are in a race against time to clear the land of fallen trees before they rot in three months’ time. Sawdust and rotting wood is a breeding ground for pests, particularly the rhinoceros beetle, which will infest the few trees that remain standing unless the land is cleared for replanting. The urgent work is being further jeopardized by unequal land ownership laws, which require the poorest farm workers to seek permission from landowners before clearing can begin.

More than 30,000 boats were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan’s storm surge leaving fishermen and women with no way of earning an income. The majority of those reliant on the sea and mangroves to earn a living also face possible relocation far from the ocean. A government law banning the building of residential homes within 40 meters of the coast risks cutting people off from their boats unless alternative safe sites are found nearby.

Oxfam America’s president Raymond C. Offenheiser just returned from visiting Oxfam’s work in the Philippines.

“Without cash support and income options, hundreds of thousands of productive and skilled workers will be out of work for years to come,” said Offenheiser.

Justin Morgan, Oxfam’s Country Director in the Philippines, added: “Millions of people are hanging in the balance, unsure how they will survive for the coming months and years. Coconut farmers and traders are integral to one of the Philippines' most profitable industries and yet they are being left out of the recovery effort.

“Fast delivery of emergency relief by the international community in the first three months has prevented widespread hunger and outbreaks of disease. But unless the Government steps in to provide the poorest farmers and fishers with real practical help, all the gains made so far could be lost.”

At the end of December, more than 29 percent of the typhoon affected population was dependent on food assistance, with more than a quarter of people sometimes going the whole day without eating.

The government response has so far not come close to meeting the needs of people affected. For example, the fishing ministry has committed to help repair 1,000 of the almost 10,000 destroyed boats.

Oxfam has provided farmer cooperatives with chainsaws and sawmills to clear the land of fallen coconut trees for replanting and help them process the fallen trees into lumber. It is supporting fisher people to rebuild their broken boats and will provide people with start-up capital for small businesses, as well as equipment such as fishing nets and kits, seeds and fertilizer.

Contact Anna Ridout on in the Philippines on +63 916 674 9742 or +63 919 509 8134 or aridout@oxfam.org.uk

Notes to editors

1. Nearly 5.6 million people require food assistance and support to prevent food insecurity and restore agricultural and fishing livelihoods (UN OCHA).

2. Before the typhoon, coconut farmers and farm workers earned an average of $1 a day throughout the year. In Eastern Visayas region where the super typhoon has left the most devastation, the Philippines Coconut Authority estimated 33 million coconut trees in 295,191 hectares of land have been damaged putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of about 1,160,332 farming households.

3. Poor fishers account for more than a third of the Philippines fisheries production.

4. Exports of coconut oil from the Philippines, the world's top supplier of the commodity, fell 18.3 percent in December. Coconut oil is the county’s top agricultural commodity export, generating an average of US$935 million in annual export earnings.