Philippines: ICRC responds to urgent needs in aftermath of Washi
In the aftermath of tropical storm Washi also known as Sendong, one of the most pressing problems is a lack of access to drinking water. Andres Casal, the ICRC's water and habitat coordinator in the Philippines, gives us an update on the current situation and the humanitarian response.
How did the ICRC react when the storm hit?
As Washi left destruction behind on its path across the southern Philippines, the ICRC immediately mobilized emergency support for the relief operations led by its local partner, the Philippine Red Cross. The aftermath was particularly devastating because the storm hit parts of the country that do not usually experience typhoons. Food packs, essential household items and hygiene kits for 18,000 people were distributed in Cagayan de Oro, Illigan and Bukidnon (three of the areas hardest hit) within the first 48 hours – a crucial period for life-saving action in such an emergency.
The ICRC adapted its activities to meet a range of humanitarian needs arising in the days that followed. Together with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and with other partners of the Movement, it stepped up its response.
What's the situation like on the ground?
I'm currently working in Cagayan de Oro, one of the places that was the worst hit by the storm. Along the Cagayan River, which overflowed and caused the flooding, there is mud and debris everywhere. Both sides of the river have been ravaged.
Some people are starting to leave evacuation centres to rebuild their homes or to stay with relatives or host families. But many centres are still filled with families who lost everything in the disaster.
The main concern now is that more than 270,000 people – some housed in evacuation centres, some living in nearby communities – lack access to drinking water.
Cagayan de Oro is a big city and not all areas were affected. However, even in some of the areas that are relatively unscathed, we can sense that there is a problem because we see a lot of people standing along the road with jerrycans and waiting for water trucks to come.
What caused the lack of access to water?
All along the river, the flooding damaged not only the water pipelines and network but also many of the wells that were the source of the water supply.
While communities can still rely on the wells that survived the storm, the damaged infrastructure limits the ability of the local water company to deliver or store water.
What is the ICRC doing to meet the need for clean water?
Earlier this week, to support the Philippine Red Cross disaster management team, we immediately sent specialized water and habitat engineers to this area. We are devising ways of bringing water from the undamaged water sources and of storing it for use by the flood survivors and neighbouring communities.
The ICRC is increasing storage capacity by setting up water bladders and tap stands designed for these kinds of emergencies. We set up the equipment in strategic places in districts where there is no access to water, such as near barangay (community) halls. We are also connecting tap stands directly to water pumping stations that still function so that the water can reach even more people.
The ICRC is working closely with the Philippine Red Cross and local water boards to ensure that water tanks and bladders are continually refilled. In a short time, we have already been able to make water available to 13,000 people, and this work continues.
In the coming weeks, it will be the job of the local water boards to restore as quickly as possible their capacity to deliver water to the flood-stricken areas. The ICRC will support these efforts. Our staff remain very motivated and we will continue to deal with needs as they arise.