Philippines

  • In the Philippines, Oxfam is working towards a future where citizens, especially women and other vulnerable groups, are free from the injustices of poverty. During emergencies, we respond with life-saving aid while supporting people to recover their livelihoods.

Mothers of Marawi hopeful after months of fear

Last year, residents of Marawi in the Philippines faced two major disasters: In May, they were uprooted by a violent siege and seven months later, they faced a deadly typhoon. Oxfam is supporting a consortium of local organizations who are helping families stay healthy and safe in the wake of these crises, rebuild their lives and prepare for future disasters. 
 
Nashima Potawan, 47, and her four children were forced to move to Madalum during the Marawi Siege, and months later faced the devastating effects of Typhoon Vinta.
 
Mothers caught in conflict keeping their families safe.
It is difficult for a mother to see her children in any kind of pain. The mothers of Marawi City, Philippines however, have witnessed their children endure crisis, only to be hit by another while still reeling and away from home. 
 
When single mother Nashima Potawan, 47, heard gunshots and bombings during the siege last spring, she immediately hurried each of her four children to different parts of their house. 
 
"I brought one of my children to the bathroom. Then, I held the youngest. I brought the other one to the living room and the other in the bedroom. So if ever a bomb would come, there will be survivors. Not all of us would die,” Nashima said. 
In another part of the city, Bailo Bazar comforted her three children who were shaking in fear. She was struggling to stop the youngest from crying. 
 
“My youngest child was crying, and my uncle said, ‘Stop him from crying. We must pretend that we are not at home so we should not be making noises.” 
 
While the women were struggling to take care of everything and everyone, members of the Maute Group were asking men and boys to come out of their homes and join the fighting.
 
After a grueling day of waiting and hiding, both Nashima’s and Bailo’s families evacuated to Madalum, a nearby municipality, where many families stayed for months to stay safe.
 
Natural disaster strikes 
As they approached their seventh month away from home, Typhoon Vinta struck just days before Christmas, leaving many casualties and millions worth of damage. Madalum, the newfound home of many families, including Nashima’s and Bailo’s, was one of the hardest hit, with landslides and flashfloods wiping out everything in its path.
 
“I saw rocks and high levels of floodwater which were taller than an average person. My son said, “Mother, I am afraid.’ And I said, ‘We should endure this, because the flood will soon subside. Let’s wait until we can get out of here,” Nashima recalled. 
Then they saw just how quickly the water was rising, and she decided to bring her children to the gymnasium, which was later designated as an evacuation center for the typhoon survivors. 
 
“If I did not decide to go to the evacuation center, the floodwater would have risen immensely. It would have killed us,” Nashima said. 
 
Bailo’s family, on the other hand, was trapped on the roof of their house as the waters rose rapidly - She honestly thought that this time, they would not survive. Fortunately, the water did not reach their roof, and a few hours later, rescuers came and brought them to a safe place. 
 
Climate change and poverty add to risks, but local leaders are there to respond.
 
The Humanitarian Response Committee is working with Oxfam and the local government to support disaster-affected communities, and to help create and accurate database which will help future aid distributions. 
 
Even before the disasters struck, Nashima and Bailo belonged to already vulnerable communities, living in one of the poorest provinces in the country. In fact, according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, seven out of ten families in province are poor and that number has been consistently rising. Without the resources to rebuild, Nashima and Bailo’s families were still living in the evacuation center one month after the storm, and eight months after the siege.
 
Along with this growing poverty, climate change is putting island nations like the Philippines at increasing risk of flooding and weather-related crises. This means that there is more need than ever for local and national organizations who can step up and provide vital leadership to respond and prepare for future disasters. 
 
The Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) is a group of Filipino organizations that Oxfam helped found in 2010 to provide rapid, high-quality and dignified relief to disaster-affected communities. This past year, they supported families forced from their homes by conflict and natural disaster with access to safe water, latrines, shelter materials, communal kitchens, hygiene kits, and more. They also provided legal assistance to help people obtain IDs, which are crucial for safe travel and for accessing government benefits. Oxfam supported the HRC’s distribution of hygiene and kitchen essentials for more than 1,500 families, and emergency financial assistance to about 700 families.
 
At times of disaster, HRC quickly assesses and responds to what communities need most in close coordination with government responders. They are helping local governments compile a complete and accurate database of the affected communities, so they can distribute further assistance for the typhoon survivors. This collaboration between organizations like Oxfam, these local organizations and government is key to provide the best possible resources and response for mothers like Nashima and Bailo, so they can rebuild their lives and feel better prepared to face future disasters as they arise. 
 

The Philippines - The power of local people to save lives

Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

When a deadly storm struck Mindinao, Oxfam’s work to strengthen local humanitarian leaders was put to the test.


Left: “No one here could afford to lose the things that were destroyed,” says organizer Ruth Villasin. “But these communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it. They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam. Right: “We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the Davao river flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Despite a heart condition and a fear of the water, Malinao rescued two toddlers from a nearby home and carried them to safety. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

The Davao is not a tame river. For all its glassy surface and gentle curves, it is capable of rising 20 or 30 feet with breathtaking speed, overwhelming the communities perched on its banks. That’s what happened in December 2017, when Typhoon Vinta struck the Philippine island of Mindanao.

“We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Thirty-five houses in her village—a third of the total—were destroyed. But when community members gather to talk about that day, there is an unmistakable tone of pride in their voices: they were well prepared for a flood emergency, and the actions they took saved lives.

Families who live on the banks of the Davao eke out a living by taking in laundry, hauling carts from door to door to collect garbage, or scooping sand from the bottom of the river to sell as construction material. In other words, they are poor, and around the world it is the poorest people who suffer most when disaster strikes. Of course, vulnerable doesn’t mean helpless; in communities where resources are scarce, the ethics of sharing and protecting one another often runs deep, and stories abound of heroism in the face of disaster.

But it takes more than good will and spontaneous acts of courage to ensure that every family in harm’s way makes it to safety: it takes knowledge, skills, practice, and a few resources.

We follow their lead

In April 2015, Oxfam joined forces with Tearfund and Christian Aid in a three-year pilot project aimed at strengthening the ability of local organizations and communities in the Philippines to handle disasters without significant help from international agencies. It is called the Financial Enablers Project, or FEP.

“We set out not only to strengthen local knowledge and capacity,” says Jane Bañez-Ockelford, who led the project for Oxfam, “but also to build local leadership—to help develop effective, confident, proactive decision makers.”

There is nothing new about international agencies supporting capacity-building efforts in countries prone to disasters. What’s different about the FEP is that the international agencies didn’t tell the Filipinos what to do with the money.

“The partners we work with define their own needs and gaps and design their own capacity-development plans,” says Bañez-Ockelford. “We follow their lead.”

Some organizations needed to improve their financial systems; others needed to sharpen their skills in carrying out assessments and providing clean water in emergencies. Each underwent a rigorous self-assessment and came up with a proposal that the FEP then supported.

It’s all part of a plan to shift power and resources traditionally held by international organizations to the humanitarians working closer to home.

“At the heart of our humanitarian ethos is the power of people,” says Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “It pushes us to move decision-making and power to where it should be: in the hands of people most affected by crises.”

Zero casualties

In the months before the typhoon struck, a group of FEP-funded organizations worked with 15 riverside communities to prepare for just such an emergency. They helped villagers set up an early warning system in which upland communities would warn people living downstream of impending floods, and where painted markers along the river would enable residents to monitor the water as it rose. The agencies encouraged communities to form emergency committees, and trained them in everything from evacuation planning to first aid to health and hygiene in emergencies. They provided the local teams with rescue equipment, and carried out simulations to help everyone understand what to do and when to do it. When the real emergency hit, evacuations were timely and effective.

The price tag for training and equipping 154 community-level responders? Less than $20,000.

Community team leader Armando Amancio experienced a similar flood in 2013. Last time, he says, “there had been no training in advance and we had no equipment. Our response was completely disorganized. There was no monitoring of hygiene and sanitation and no immunizations, and there were serious health problems afterward. People came down with leptospirosis, dengue, flu, and diarrhea. One person died of tetanus from a puncture wound. This time, the health problems were mild.”

And while more than 200 people died in Typhoon Vinta, in the areas where Oxfam’s FEP partners were working, there were no casualties.

“These communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it,” says Ruth Villasin, an organizer from one of the local aid groups. “They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.”

Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

On the ground in the Philippines

Those left homeless by the devastating super typhoon Haiyan are being empowered to choose the best type of assistance for their families. 

Filipino communities are working with Oxfam to carry out vital repair work to their homes. Oxfam is helping the communities to feed their families and purchase essential items, enabling the individuals to focus on rebuilding their lives.

Oxfam humanitarian manager Colm Byrne (pictured below right) is on the ground in Brgy Baigad on the island of Bantayan where he can see first-hand how this approach is transforming communities.

Colm said: “What is different about this form of response is it gives people a choice to determine what sort of assistance they need because every family, every individual, has different needs and priorities. If we treat everyone as a homogenous group then everybody would get the same form of assistance. But the assistance Oxfam is providing recognises everyone’s needs are different – just the same as families in Ireland."

Photos: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna, Oxfam Ireland

Above right:

  1. Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne with hygiene kits, water tanks and water bladders, just some of the ways Oxfam is supporting hard-hit families on Bantayan Island.
  2. Jonalyn Batayola (25) with her two daughters and niece. She will use the voucher she received to buy nails and wood to rebuild her house.
  3. Clearing the debris in Brgy Baigan on Bantayan island.

Above left:

  1. Young children play amidst the debris in the village of Brgy Baigad.
  2. School children at Mojon Elementary School on Bantayan Island.
  3. Family members stand outside their damaged home on the island of Bantayan.
  4. Community members in Brgy Baigad clear debris.

Latest figures show 5,680 people were killed when Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – swept through the Philippines on November 8. More than 11 million people were affected with around four million of these losing their homes.