First Person

More than 3 million Filipinos displaced by Typhoon Haiyan

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Oxfam’s Vincent Malasador offers words of support and reassurance to a recipient during the distribution of hygiene items in Paypay village, north Cebu. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

In the chaotic conditions after a major emergency like the typhoon in the Philippines, it can be hard to compile reliable facts and figures about the people affected. But one thing we know today is that the latest news isn’t good. Yesterday, the UN’s estimate for the number of people affected jumped from 11.8 million to 13 million, and its estimate for the number of displaced people rose from 920,000 to more than 3 million.

What happens when 3 million people lose their homes? Where are they living now? Oxfam’s experts tell me that of the displaced people, about 371,000 are in evacuation centers in churches, schools, and public buildings. Others are sheltering in host communities, living with people who whose homes weren’t as badly affected. Still others have built makeshift shelters wherever they can. An article published this morning in the Christian Science Monitor paints a vivid picture of one such situation: “On the wide steps of a stadium in Manila that until recently hosted Philippine military parades, evacuees from the devastated city of Tacloban lay blankets on flattened cardboard boxes that offer some measure of cushioning from the concrete….”

Meanwhile, Oxfam’s Helen Szoke reports from the Philippines that aid is beginning to reach the hardest-hit areas, and that many people affected by the storm are showing great resilience and strength as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

“Yesterday we travelled to the north of Cebu to help with a distribution of aid to the small village of PayPay, where we had taken 800 hygiene packs [also called hygiene kits, or health kits] for families in the area,” wrote Szoke on November 16. “When we arrived at the distribution center there were hundreds of families waiting patiently in district groups, with volunteering village leaders assisting our team with registration and disbursement of the goods. The hygiene packs have soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, plastics, mats, blankets and so on – basic needs to get them through. …

Incredibly the area is beginning to rebuild already. We saw men on their roofs, mending gaping holes. We saw the start of cleaning up the felled trees, with neat piles of firewood on the side of the road in some places. At one stage of the journey we saw linesmen atop the electricity poles, carefully threading and stretching the lines to a position of safety.

Despite the adversity faced by these people, they waved us off with a smile and a thank you – a positive and astonishingly resilient village.”

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