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Your Impact: One Year On From Philippines Typhoon

Two ships sat wedged on the land. Underneath their hulks lay the remains of houses and the bodies of those who called them home.
 
All around lay flattened. On a piece of corrugated iron read the words ‘HELP ME’.
 
A teddy bear was face-down nearby and underfoot were the remants of everyday life as we know it; school books, shampoo bottles and plates among the debris.
 
I was in the Barangay 70 and 69 district in Tacloban city in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Earlier that day we saw bodies on the streets and drove past an evacuation centre which collapsed on top of those who had sought safety there, the steel structure twisted horribly by the storm.
 
More than 5,000 people were killed and 4 million were forced from their homes as Haiyan (or Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines) wove its destructive path through the central Philippines. It was the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall.
 
Grief was raw. We stopped at a church surrounded by newly dug plots. A photograph of a boy no older than three marked one resting place, surrounded by favourite sweets.
 
Back where the ships lay, we met a father who had lost his wife and three children. In an emotional encounter, he wept as he showed their pictures in the family photo album.
 
Amid the devastation, children played in the street and begged us to take their smiling pictures. Nearby, an Oxfam water bladder was providing clean and safe water. Opposite stood one of another Oxfam tap.
 
In spite of their overwhelming loss, people were trying to get back to some sort of sense of normality. Stalls were opening again on the side of the roads and the most popular items were torches, proving that demand dictates the market no matter what the circumstances.
 
Everywhere we went in the Philippines, people on spotting the Oxfam t-shirt would ask where we were from and express their gratitude for the support coming from the island of Ireland at this most difficult of times. Their resilience stunned us.
 
This was my first time in Asia and my first experience witnessing our humanitarian work in action. It was a real privilege to see how the generous donations of people across the island of Ireland translated into positive results on the ground. 
 
From those who came into our shops with cheques written out to the appeal (the odd one written in four figures), to children who saved up their pocket money, along with bucket-shaking, events and even a charity single, we are incredibly grateful for your support. 100% of the funds raised went to our emergency response and had a positive and long-lasting impact.
 
 
Photos:
 
Top left: Seaweed farms like Marissa Gegante’s on Bantayan island were destroyed by the typhoon. She says: “We are thankful again for having Oxfam. They helped us to recover from the typhoon and to the donors of the livelihood programme and cash-for-work – and for the love we received from them. God bless Oxfam.” Tessa Bunney/Oxfam.  
 
Top right: Enfracian Boca, pictured with her granddaughter Marcy Anne Fuentes (8 months), received  an Oxfam hygiene kit containing essential items including soap, detergent, toothpaste, and underwear. She says: “Thank you to Oxfam for the hygiene kit. It has been very useful – we have used everything, especially the soap.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom left: Arlene Arceo, Manager of Latufa Farmers' Association, says: “We thank Oxfam for helping us to recover after the super typhoon Yolanda. You give us new hope for our livelihoods and a new job on our coconut lumber project.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom right: Kenneth Caneda stands in front of two Oxfam latrines in Tacloban. “I use these Oxfam toilets,” he says. “We have no other toilets here. Also thank you for the cash for work for clearing the paths here.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.
 
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to not only provide vital aid such as food, clean water, sanitation and shelter in the immediate aftermath but also be there for long-haul, helping people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
 
Typhoon Haiyan delivered a double blow. In the short term, it left more than 14.1 million people in need of immediate, life-saving assistance. But it also pushed millions of poor people further into poverty. Rice crops, coconut trees and fishing boats were wiped out, leaving people struggling to grow food and earn an income. 
 
In response, we have reached more than 860,000 people so far. Our first priority was to provide life-saving assistance, such as clean water, toilets, hygiene kits, and cash to buy food and other essentials. We then began helping people to recover the livelihoods that had been destroyed by the disaster.
 
For example, we provided rice seeds for farmers to replant lost crops and chainsaws for clearing fallen trees that obstructed fields. 
 
One year on from the disaster, the emergency phase of our response has finished. We’re now focusing on long-term recovery and rehabilitation. One way we’re doing this is by planning how water and sanitation facilities will be managed on a permanent basis. We’re also looking at how people will be able to earn a living. 
 
We need to ensure that communities not only recover, but are more prepared for the next disaster. 
 
The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world. In the face of predictions of more extreme weather, our new report Can’t Afford to Wait highlights the importance of being prepared for climate-related risks. It follows a warning last week from experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the irreversible impact of climate change on people and eco systems. But there is a solution, if we urgently reduce carbon emissions.  
 
Our Philippines campaign called #MakeTheRightMove calls on the Filipino government to get resettlement and rehabilitation efforts right, and immediately put in place their disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation plans. 
 
As the world reflects on the events of November 8th, 2013, for those grieving nothing can ever replace their loss.
 
All we can do is continue to provide life-saving and life-changing support in times of crisis, and ensure people can face the future prepared, come what may.  
 
Sorcha Nic Mhathúna is Oxfam Ireland’s Communications and Content Manager.
 
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Oxfam & You

Read the latest edition of Oxfam & You to see how we're making amazing things happen together.

Your support has enabled us to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan as the humanitarian crisis there escalated (see page 4). With 1.5 million people displaced and an estimated 4.9 million in need of assistance, we are there providing clean water, food and other basic essentials.

We are also responding to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza (see page 5), providing food and sanitation as well as supporting hospitals and health clinics as they struggle to cope with large numbers of injured people.

Your support is vital in times of emergency but also in our long-term development work, like the Pink Phones project in Cambodia supporting female farmers to boost their harvest and their profits as well as helping them to use their voice for good in their communities.

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An incredible story of survival against all the odds in South Sudan

A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in South Sudan where more than a million people have been forced from their homes by fighting. These people need water, food and protection from the violence. Below is one mother’s incredible story of survival against all the odds.

Martha Nyandit (42) and her six children are amongst the thousands of people who have fled several rounds of violent and bloody fighting in and around the town of Bor in Jonglei state.

With gunshots ringing through the night, Martha only had time to pick up a few things – 300 South Sudanese pounds (€50/£40), some clothes and 10 kilos of sorghum grain before fleeing to an island in the middle of the river Nile.  

The island was no paradise. It was the first stop on a journey clouded by hunger.  

Clockwise from top: Portrait of Martha Nyandit, South Sudan. Martha shows us her registration card. Martha waits for food at a distribution. 
Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

The precious grain she had managed to rescue was whole and so needed to be ground by a hand grinder or a grinding stone, neither of which anyone among the hundreds of people on the island had with them.  With nothing else to eat, Martha had to boil the grain whole.

“For the adults and the older children this was okay but the small children couldn’t eat it, they complained it was tough and hard.” 

Asked how she coped with hungry children, she says: “It was a challenge and honestly, I had no method of coping with them.  But some of the others hiding had some food which they shared with my children.  I thank God for this help.”

Eventually the grain and what little else others had brought ran out. The families became so desperate for food that they would travel back to the mainland in dug-out canoes, risking their lives under the sound of artillery fire to find the next meal. Then one morning, when these canoes were waiting on the shore for their owners to return, some armed soldiers stole them and crossed back over the river to the island where Martha, her family and many others were hiding.

“The armed men came ashore and started shooting, so we quickly ran down into the reeds where they couldn’t see us. They didn’t know where exactly we were so they sprayed bullets into the reeds.”

Martha’s 11-year old son Kuol was injured by the gunfire when a bullet grazed the skin on his ankle, a lucky escape as she said several people were shot dead.  At that point, with the soldiers on the island, Martha and the children had no place to hide but in the river itself.

Clockwise from top: Martha Nyandit collects dirty drinking water. Martha talks to Oxfam's Grace Cahill. Martha grinds sorghum grain - a meal for her children. Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

“I knew I had to get us down into the water for us to be safe.  The water came up to my chest, I had one child on my back, the baby around my neck and one floating on my arm. The others were able to go on their own.”  

Martha explained to my colleague Grace Cahill, how along with several other families, they spent the entire day in hiding between the river and its bank, trying to make as little noise as possible in case they were caught by the soldiers.  Martha had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep her young children quiet.

“Kur (aged four) kept asking me where his elder siblings had gone off on their own.  He kept screaming ‘Where’s my brother? Where’s my brother gone?’ I needed to keep him quiet so lay on top of him on the shore. He had mud all over his face but it stopped the sound of him crying.  I told him he must stop asking questions because we need to survive.”

After a day spent submerged in the water, with the sound of fighting on the island and nothing to eat, the families managed to telephone relatives already in Mingkaman camp, home to thousands of displaced families like Martha’s, and got a barge sent after dark to rescue them. 

In Mingkaman the family arrived with nothing, Martha told me how she had lost the 300 South Sudanese Pounds and all of the family’s clothes in their escape from the island.  But upon arrival, Martha discovered it wasn’t just clothes and money the family had lost.

“I had been asking if my husband was alive since January but people refused to answer me straight.  It was not until a few weeks ago, here in MIngkaman, that a cousin came to bring me the news that he was killed.”

Martha’s husband was a soldier in the South Sudanese government army when he was pulled into action and killed in the town of Bor.

Clockwise from top: Martha and her family. Oxfam staff measure out food for Martha at a distribution. Martha waits for food to be distributed. Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

“Now I feel like it was recent even though he has been dead for three months. I used to wake up needing to get on with my day, needing to get on with things but I felt so weary, I couldn’t get things done, I needed to know where he was.”

Martha recalled with sadness how it was her husband who had built their home back in Bor where they had two thatched huts and one smaller shelter they used as a kitchen. The family also took care of eight of their own goats.  

At the moment, Martha and her six children only eat twice a day, rather than a normal three times a day.

“We eat once around 11 and 12 in the morning when I cook porridge and again between 6 and 7 in the evening.  When the food is scarce I give breakfast to the children and then I eat only once.”

“When there’s no food I ask for a loan or I beg from my neighbours who have fewer children and so might have some of their ration leftover.

“Sometimes I feel so weak I worry I will not have enough milk for the baby.  Sometimes I’m so weak I feel like I’m going to collapse; I can’t see when I stand up.

“Maybe one day people will see vulnerable people like us and decide to help more.” 

Asked about how she managed to be so resilient, she simply replied: “But it’s the responsibility of a single mother to put up and wait for better times.”

Better times must come soon for this family who had already been through so much in last few months on their search for safety. 

We are now supporting Martha and 95,000 other people in Mingkaman, distributing enough food to feed a family for a month. Every family receives two 50kg bags of sorghum grain, 10.5 kg of lentils and 7 litres of oil. 

In addition to food, seed and tool distribution, we are also providing a full water and sanitation response – treating water directly from the Nile so it’s safe to drink, building latrines, distributing soap and teaching people simple methods for good hygiene.

We are also calling on the international community to step up diplomatic efforts to promote peace talks and saves lives with a massive injection of emergency aid.

Until then, this rapidly worsening crisis threatens to become an even larger catastrophe. 

Please donate here, call 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) or go to your local Oxfam shop.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager. He is working in South Sudan on our emergency response.

Oxfam's Colm Byrne in South Sudan

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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.

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Aid now getting through in the Philippines but challenges remain

I am this morning in Cebu City, readying to move out mid-morning with an aid distribution of hygiene kits (toothbrushes, soap, blankets) and water kits (storage containers, water treatment solution) to Daanbantayan, northern Cebu. 

Even though access is now improving, health concerns continue to increase, with urgent need for safe drinking water and medical assistance, especially in Leyte and Samar.

 

Our teams have returned from four days of assessment and say that what they have seen is deeply troubling. Two teams are left there as the chopper could not land due to the torrential rains. Their food rations are short but they are fortunate to have the option of leaving soon. 

Clockwise from top: Life-saving aid being loaded onto lorries from Oxfam's distribution centre. These hygiene kits include items such as toothbrushes, blankets, underwear and soap. The Oxfam bucket has been used in our emergency response around the world. It has a built-in cap and spigot (part of the tap) to keep water clean. These amazing 'life saver' boxes are a new addition to Oxfam's emergency kit. When the handle is pumped, the built-in filter turns dirty water into water that is safe to drink.

People are lined up in Tacloban we are told, waiting for emergency food distribution, in the torrential rains. There are reports of security problems and looting, but also that people are ‘getting stuff because they need it – they are sharing stuff around.’ 

As the days grow and basic requirements are held up, inevitably and understandably people’s capacity to cope will erode. Clean water, food and shelter – the absolute basics are critical.

Above: Oxfam Eastern Samar Rapid Assessment Team covering the areas of Barangay Batang for emergency drinking water distribution and an assessment of Guiuan Poblacion. Photos: Jire Carreon

There are always stories that are heartening and give you hope out of this horror. Oxfam is bringing in many items of aid, including hygiene kits, water kits, clean up tools and other things. 

Local people active in relief efforts

Cebu resident Mani Osmena and her family have donated their Cebu warehouse to Oxfam to help get aid speedily dispatched to typhoon-affected areas.

She said: “Everybody needs help, and this is the least we could do. Why does a charity need to pay [for warehouse space] when they are only giving to help the needy?”

Her family is also identifying volunteers to go out with the workers to help with the disbursement of emergency hygiene kits. 

They are keen to help with logistics where they can. The aid community is in town, but we should not forget the strong civil society groups and the many amazing people directly and indirectly affected themselves who also are rising to the challenge of this disaster.

You can help by donating here, calling 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) or making a donation at your local Oxfam shop.

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