By JAMES BUATES
With additional research from Dawn Cecilia Peña
MANILA – It has been a week since Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) has ravaged hundreds of communities in the Visayas region, and certain parts of Mindanao and Luzon. Yet, survivors are still grappling to survive, having very little to almost no assistance from the government.
“More or less 300 houses were totally destroyed by the typhoon and many houses were partially damaged. There was huge damage to livelihood, with palay destroyed, and fishing boats crashed by the raging waves,” Minet Aguisanda of the Leyte Center for Development, a humanitarian organization, told Bulatlat in a phone interview as she described communities they visited in Southern Leyte such as the towns of Silago, San Juan, Saint Bernard, Libagon in the aftermath of the typhoon.
Leyte is among the regions badly hit by Typhoon Odette, which wreaked havoc on Dec. 16. It has left 177 dead and 38 missing, according to the government’s disaster response body. Government data also showed that infrastructure and agricultural damages are at P448.9 million ($9 million) and P323.25 million ($2.37 million), respectively.
The NDRRMC also reported that the number of affected individuals rose to 1,382,252, or 368,063 families. More than half a million residents were displaced, with the majority of them staying at evacuation centers.
Reports from the ground show how water, food, and other necessities remain inaccessible in communities that were hit hard by the typhoon. There are 239 areas still without electricity, 135 areas have no cellular communication service, and internet lines have also yet to be restored in many parts of the affected regions.
Local governments have appealed for immediate assistance, including those in Bohol, Dinagat Islands, Siargao, Cebu, Guimaras, and Butuan City after these areas suffered widespread damage due to the typhoon.
Amid calls for immediate response and aid, however, President Duterte said the government’s funds are now “immensely depleted” and that “money was really wiped out.” Five days after the typhoon, the president said he would be tapping a P10-billion ($199.2 million) budget from his office to assist affected residents. However, the budget department later said it has “no commitment” that the funds will be distributed by Friday, Christmas eve.
Based on what they have seen on the ground, Aguisanda said that the communities they have visited have yet to receive any aid from both local and national governments. In several communities, there were village officials who managed to provide affected residents with two kilos of rice.
“The people in Leyte need help, food, shelter, water, and support to livelihood,” said Aguisanda.
Among the hardest-hit communities of Typhoon Odette are the very same that have high poverty incidence in the country.
Before it hit central Philippines, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) earlier warned that it will affect communities in six regions of the country where at least 3.5 million Filipinos live below the poverty line.
“Most of the affected people are already poor even before the pandemic and even before this typhoon. They would make more or less P2,000 ($40) a month,” said Aguisanda, adding that this is too small for a family to get by.
The $40 monthly income for a family is a far cry from the government’s own projection of what a family would need to live comfortably – at $2,390. Meanwhile, the Philippine Statistics Authority said in 2015 that a Filipino family needs at least $180 to meet their basic needs such as food.
Earlier, the country’s socioeconomic planning secretary called for immediate assistance to “mitigate the effect on affected people.”
Where are the lessons from past typhoons?
Kabataan Partylist noted that the apparent lack of government aid for typhoon survivors is in stark contrast with the trillions of debts that the Duterte administration has incurred over the years. Bulatlat’s research showed that from April 2020 to March 2021 alone, the government incurred a total of over $1.47 billion worth of foreign debts intended for disaster risk management.
This includes a $500-million loan from the World Bank, $500-million from the Asian Development Bank, and the rest from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Those badly hit communities now also include those that were affected by Supertyphoon Haiyan.