First Person

Typhoon Haiyan slams most impoverished regions of Philippines

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A man walks past a tree uprooted by strong winds brought by super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon in the world this year and possibly the most powerful ever to hit land. The storm battered the central Philippines on Friday, forcing millions of people to flee to safer ground, cutting power lines and blowing apart houses. Photo by Zander Casas/Reuters, courtesy

Reports from our Oxfam colleagues in the Philippines about the widespread damage from Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) are starting to come in. One message we got earlier this morning says that early estimates of people affected by the storm have reached at least 700,000; this is likely to increase when we get more reports from the 22 provinces affected by the typhoon.

One report we received said: “As we write this, communication lines in the provinces of Eastern Samar and Leyte remain cut…total black out in media reports tonight. There were reported storm surges, flash flooding, strong winds destroying structures (buildings and houses), light posts, trees and others – all confirming how strong this super typhoon is.”

Oxfam staff are now assessing damage and post-disaster assistance needs in Northern Cebu, Northern and Eastern Samar and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas region of the country.

Our staff in the Philippines are particularly concerned about the fact that the storm is hitting areas where there is widespread poverty, as indicated in this excerpt from a report we received yesterday:

“The first region to be affected – and likely to be the worst hit – is Eastern Visayas. It is composed of two main islands, Leyte and Samar, as well as Biliran Island, and consists of six provinces and seven cities. The total population is 4,101,322 (2010 census).

“Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region (among 17) in the Philippines according to the National Statistical Coordination Board. Its poverty rate has risen to 37 percent of families, about 10 percentage points higher than the national average.

“About 16 percent of families in Eastern Visayas experienced hunger according to the 2011 Annual Poverty Indicator Survey, compared with a national average of six percent.

The high incidence of poverty means one in three families in the region are especially vulnerable to loss of livelihoods, with little or no savings or assets to fall back on. “

“Small scale farmers and those relying on fishing to make a living will be hardest hit. Their fields and their boats and tackle will be badly damaged and they will need help not only today but in months to come,” said Marie Madamba-Nuñez, of Oxfam in the Philippines. “Making sure people have clean water, safe sanitation and a roof over their heads will be an immediate priority.”

The immediate impact on agriculture is not completely clear in these early hours, but staff in the Philippines are reporting that “thousands of farmers and farm workers who were about to begin harvesting will be the worst affected. Storm surges and strong winds typically stir up the waters of coastal estuaries, which are important for fish farming – another important source of livelihoods in the region.

“Consequently, although the death toll may be mercifully low thanks to preventative measures and timely evacuations, substantial assistance may still be needed to address massive damage to infrastructure and the economy and help people who have lost everything to rebuild their lives. In other words, although lives have been saved, livelihoods still need to be rescued.”

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