Philippines - Fears of a typhoon-induced humanitarian disaster in the Philippines have been dispelled due to a combination of a weaker-than-expected typhoon and a mass evacuation of some 1.2 million people.
The alarm was raised when Typhoon Hagupit briefly turned into a super-typhoon last Friday (5/12) and appeared on course to rip into the central Visayas region. This was the area devastated by last year’s super typhoon Haiyan, which left over 6,300 dead and a trail of destruction in its wake.
The typhoon made landfall just north of the area that took the brunt of Haiyan, where local sources say 21 people have died. It was subsequently downgraded to typhoon status, and then to tropical storm level, as it hit the capital Manila on Monday night, where residents in flood-prone areas were urged to evacuate.
IOM responded by readying teams from hubs in Guiuan, Tacloban, Cebu, Ormoc and Roxas, and from its Manila hub. Most reported that the mass evacuations were a huge success, with very little loss of life, even though many houses were damaged or destroyed.
Dolores city, Northern Samar, took a direct hit from the 200 km per hour winds, and there were still some concerns last night for the 23 barangays (districts), with an estimated total population of 20,000, which had still not reported in. IOM teams that reached Dolores on Monday reported heavy damage, but – in the spirit of resilience which has characterised typhoon response in this country – Filipinos were already out repairing their homes and some local businesses were already open.
The country learnt a harsh lesson from the high death toll during last year’s typhoon season, noted Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Soliman from the Department of Social Welfare and Development. "Haiyan was the best teacher of all," she said. "People did not need much convincing to move to safety. In fact, many of them volunteered to go."
One month ago Philippines President Benigno Aquino III officiated at the handover of IOM temporary shelters in Haiyan-effected regions. Yesterday morning it was reported that all of the several hundred shelters built by IOM survived the storm.
“We congratulate the Government of the Philippines, which has done an incredible job at national, regional and local level to bring people to safety,” said Marco Boasso, IOM’s Chief of Mission in the Philippines today. “Even though this storm was not as savage as Haiyan, it was still a powerful weather event which would, if not properly planned for, have caused hundreds, if not thousands of deaths.”
Today (9/12) IOM began its emergency response, based on the reports of the assessment teams. This includes planning the distribution of up to 120,000 corrugated iron sheets already pre-positioned in Tacloban, and 10,000 hygiene kits (soap, bleach, brushes, buckets, towels, diapers, sanitary towels) pre-positioned in Tacloban and Cebu.
“The rapid and successful mass evacuation means that the people of the Philippines will be able to recover much more quickly and we hope this is a harbinger of things to come”, added Boasso. “In this response we have seen that good preparedness, including information to communities, safe shelters, and above all long-term planning, makes sense in financial, as well as humanitarian, terms.”
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