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Aftermath of typhoon Ketsana: More from Manila

03 Oct 2009

As I start to type this report, the radio is blaring out information on the current situation of Typhoon Parma. The information is that the storm is making landfall over Luzon which is the province in the north of Philippines.

There is a better preparedness this time with the local government agencies evacuating people from flood prone areas to public buildings such as schools, for shelter.

It rained most of the night in Manila but the rain was moderate. I'm staying in a hotel close to the COSE office. This is on an elevated area and does not flood as much. The rain this morning is not heavy. However the information we have from the low lying areas is that some places had waist deep water.

We all are hoping and praying that the flood level will not increase otherwise this time the situation will get worse. All the garbage that is sitting outside most of the houses will float around and bring much more misery and hardship to the affected people.

Desperate need

The areas where COSE has community-based programmes and officers of the organisation made lists of the most needy older people. When the vans arrived, there were hundreds of people milling around in ankle deep mud (this was 6 days after the flood).

As soon as the van stopped people of all ages would line up around the van to present their case, but we simply didn't have enough to hand out to everyone. Fortunately, older people are still held in high regard, and an explanation was sufficient - yet the desperate need was obvious on the faces of the people.

Later, when we passed the school, it seems school officials would like to start school on Monday, yet there are still hundreds of people using the school as a dormitory. They return to their homes to clean during the day and come back to the school at night because there is no water, electricity nor anywhere to sleep.

Cleaning up

As we drove our van yesterday for distribution, we saw people throwing away all their meagre possessions. Electronic appliances like TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, fans, radios, computers, etc, were being discarded.

Many cars (old and new) have mud cakes formed on the roof. Despite the whole car being submerged under water for more than a day, I saw one father and son, taking apart the car upholstery, speakers, and other equipments and trying to clean the car. It looked like a very laborious process. I have no idea if the engine will work. I doubt it very much.

Another common sight was people, mainly women, sitting outside their homes and washing kitchen utensils, plates and whatever they could re-use after washing. While the beds and furniture were being discarded in most cases, I saw many houses washing their clothes and bed covers. A lot of the houses had put their furniture outside to dry but there was no sun.

While the adults toiled with concern lit large on their faces, it was so refreshing to see the children playing in the new environment. They enjoyed having their living room under a cloudy sky and were jumping around.

I saw boys with their clothes brown from all the mud and dirt, playing baseball with mud balls. Others riding the tricycle just to go around the community since in the normal circumstance, their parents would be riding it for income.

Where do we go from here?

The reality of life was very obvious depending on the age. The kids had nothing to worry about and made most of the situation. The adults, weighed down with the concerns of rebuilding were trying their best to salvage whatever possible from the remains and trying to figure out how to clean the house and try to get their life back on track.

The older people's situation was the worst. More often than not, older people look back at their lives and what they accomplished. For older people in this community, all they had left and held dearly were their meagre possessions. They have lost their all hard earned assets.

For them the future is grim. They do not think they will be able to get these things back and are devastated. One of the older women in De La Costa (a centre we visited yesterday) kept on repeating that she has no bed or clothes and wondered how she would sleep. The trauma they suffer is too painful.

Taking steps towards rehabilitation

This morning, Francis Kupang, the Director of COSE returned from his visit to Singapore where he was invited to attend a conference. He informed everyone of the situation in Manila and there is some effort to raise funds.

We had another discussion on the need and have planned distributions of food and other basic essential items to be carried out with the funds from HelpAge. Francis is contacting the dealers for procurement at the best price.

Over the next two weeks, we are expecting that things with regard to rehab will have more clarity. COSE staff will hold consultations with affected older people and get their suggestions for activities to help with livelihood and shelter repair. COSE will send a rehab proposal to HelpAge after this is done.

I am expecting this work to take some time. Currently a six month period looks probable.

Find out more about what we do in emergencies to help older people.  

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Godfred Paul
Job title: Myanmar Country Director

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.