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Typhoon Haiyan: Older people in desperate need of shelter

17 Nov 2013

Matildo and Clara in the evacuation centre. (c) HelpAge InternationalThree days after we last went to Bogo from Cebu, the road is even more congested than before. But this is a good sign as the traffic consists mainly of aid trucks. 

We finally get to the sports stadium which had been used as an evacuation centre and as a temporary shelter after the typhoon but because there has been so much damage, the mayor says it's not safe for overnight shelter and everyone has been asked to leave. We're immediately concerned for some of the older people we've been tracking.

Rescued from the typhoon

Earlier in the week Eva Maria, one of the emergency team visited Maltildo Garbo and his wife Clara, both 72. Clara was lying on plywood using a mat as a blanket and seemed very weak. They came to the evacuation centre after the storm with their few possessions. Though they had heard the evacuation warnings they chose not to leave their house, as they were worried their possessions would be taken if they left.

In the end they were rescued and taken to the centre. They have three children but they live alone and their children are not nearby, which increases their vulnerability. When we got there, there was no sign of Maltildo and Clara and we were told to visit the local hospital.

There, we found Maltildo and Clara at the end of a corridor. She had weakened significantly in the last few days but was cleaner and had received medical attention. Matildo seemed a little confused and insisted Clara was fine but needed rest and vitamins. I still felt a bit concerned so we wandered around looking for a doctor. Eventually we found out that they had both been tested positive for TB. They hadn't yet been told. On a positive note they were now in hospital, which has been supported in the last few days by a medical team from the Israeli army.

Collecting scrap metal

Elisa (84) and Pas (60) walking home with their distribution on their heads. (c) HelpAge InternationalLater on the road we meet Elisa 84, and Pas 60. "We both collect scrap metal", Elisa tells me, "and sell it at the side of the road, which we've been doing for years. Our houses were flattened, but we still sleep there because that's where all our belongings are. We've made a makeshift tent from plastic.

"We're both widows. I have two children, one is in Manila and he sends money sometimes, if he remembers. So the only food we have is what we buy from our earnings. But we've only made 100 pesos in the last week because there's so much metal everywhere now no one needs to buy any. We haven't been to the food distribution centre (run by Department of Social Welfare) to get any food aid. We don't want to be a burden on anyone."

Where to sleep when it rains

We convince them to go, but I doubt they will. Then later we see them walking home with their distributions on their heads. They take us home to show us their destroyed houses. The views of the sea from where their meagre houses stood are stunning. In a richer country this would be "prime real-estate". Right now, their big concern is where to sleep when it rains. That these women feel either too proud or too ashamed to ask for aid is mind-boggling. I suspect they thought it too much like begging. Ekis from COSE said this is quite common among the older generation here.

If older people aren't going to demand or request aid, we need to ensure their needs are built into plans. Is this happening? I've been reading reports from the UN Cluster for Nutrition (in emergencies the UN coordinate all agencies involved into specialist clusters) and they talk about "at risk groups" in terms of nutrition. The groups they describe are children, lactating women, and pregnant women. No mention of older people.

Donate now

In the UK

Our sister organisation, Age International, has launched an emergency appeal to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Or you can text URGENT to 70004 to donate £5 to help older people in the Philippines.

In the USA

Our sister organisation, HelpAge USA, has launched an emergency appeal to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.


If you live outside the UK and the USA you can donate to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan here.

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Author profile

Rosaleen Cunningham
Country: Ireland
Job title: Freelance Media and Communications

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