Philippine floods: wading through shoulder-deep water
Thursday 16 August 2012
Written by Sarah Ireland, Humanitarian Emergency Operations Manager for Save the Children Australia.
It was dry when I arrived in Manila on Friday night, but as I went further away from the city centre the next day, it was a completely different sight.
Children were swimming through shoulder-deep floodwater, while men pushed entire families on makeshift rafts to the homes of nearby relatives or any evacuation centres that still had room.
More than three million people in the Philippines have been affected by flooding triggered by the southwest monsoon, many in the capital of Manila and nearby regions.
Latest figures indicate that around 440,000 people are living in 940 evacuation centres and around 340,000 people have had their homes damaged by floodwaters and are living with relatives or friends.
We were travelling to one of those 940 evacuation centres to distribute pre-packaged flood relief items, and we used a similar mode of transport – a bamboo boat.
Ten families per classroom
Slowly navigating our way past swimming children and makeshift rafts, we finally arrived at a school being used as an evacuation centre.
The three big school buildings housed over 1,100 people. The ground floor was completely flooded, so the only way to move between the buildings was by a makeshift raft consisting of a piece of plywood perched precariously on a rubber tyre.
The buildings had no electricity, running water or garbage collection and there were only 19 usable toilets for the entire population. On average, there were ten families sleeping in each classroom, with many more families sleeping in the halls.
The communal shower was situated in the stairwell landing, where people walking between floors passed women and children bathing openly. Clothes washing and cooking facilities were crammed in between beds.
The principals of the schools had established ‘house rules’ to try to ensure cleanliness and hygiene but it is hard to enforce them in such a cramped area, especially with new families arriving every day.
Sifting through garbage
I met Sharlyn who, with her husband and two children aged four and five years old, had to walk through chest-high water to get to the evacuation centre.
Her husband is a shoemaker but his boss has moved the store to an area that isn’t flooded, so he no longer has a job.
To get money to buy food, Sharlyn and the children sift through garbage, selling it at the local market.
A teacher from the school said that this was a common issue and they are expecting only a few children to return to school as many of them will be working to earn money for their families.
This is only the start of the monsoon season, and we’re already seeing large numbers of people struggling.
We need to ensure that their needs are being addressed now, so they do not compound when the next storm hits.
If you would like to support our work in emergencies, please donate to Save the Children’s Emergency Fund, which allows us to respond quickly when disaster strikes.