Laura Sheahen, CRS regional information officer for Asia and the Pacific Rim
Update: In Philippines, Caritas has distributed 6000 family relief packs already and 4,600 sacks of rice.
Caritas Philippines relief operations are on hold tonight as the country braces for another strong typhoon in the next hours.
A man pushes a long wooden kayak down a narrow village street, being careful not to bump villagers sloshing through flood water on their way home. He passes children swimming on a basketball court, and a neighbor tugging groceries on an inner tube. Snatches of Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong with Me” drift down from a radio on the second floor of a house near him; no one uses the ground floor any more.
Turning a corner, the man steers the boat into what used to be a green courtyard. Like everything else in the Philippine village of Sampang Bayan, it’s three and a half feet under water.
Inside the kayak are pink and yellow bags filled with rice, canned sardines, noodles, and other foods. In the short space of hours, those bags have passed through perhaps a dozen hands. That morning, they were probably being filled by student volunteers at St. Paul’s University in the Philippine capital of Manila and trucked to a provincial capital. Or they were packaged by Catholic high school students like the teens at Saint James in an area called Bulacan, dozens of them working steadily in a sweaty, one-fan-only room. The pink and yellow bags were, perhaps, passed hand to hand by Knights of Columbus earlier. Then they were brought to low-lying areas where the damage from Typhoon Ketsana is worst.
For volunteers helping flood survivors in Sampang Bayan, the final stop was loading the aid packages onto the kayaks.
Making their way through the waist-high water, staffers from Caritas visits the home of 39-year-old Bong Cunanan, who is helping coordinate the relief efforts from his nearby church of St. John the Baptist. The little group climbs up his stairs, dripping and wringing their jeans out once they reach the dry second floor. Bong’s mother waves to their neighbors across the way, separated now by a small lake and not a yard; one of the aid kayaks floats there. “What do people here need most right now?” we ask. Half-joking, Bong shouts across the water: “What do you need?”
The answer: Food, clothing and medicine. Five days after Ketsana hit, “all the canned goods are gone,” says Sister Rosanne Mallillin, who is heading up Caritas Philippines’ emergency response. “People are scrabbling for resources.”
Filipinos are donating tons of used clothing to flood victims, but keeping it dry and clean is hard when your house is swamped with mud or filled with slowly-drying silt. People need medicines for waterborne diseases like diarrhea, and for skin infections caused by constantly walking in contaminated water. In one urban area where residents are still bailing water out of their ground floors, a man pulls off his rubber boots and displays his red, peeling toes.
In areas where the water has gone down, mounds of trash are piling up on the sidewalks. Some families camp by the side of the road under grimy, sodden cloths. There are not enough toilets in the evacuation centers for people whose homes were washed away. In villages that are still flooded, like Sampang Bayan, hygiene is even more of a dilemma.
Partnering with churches that started feeding survivors the moment the storm ended, Caritas is now addressing the health and hygiene problems by distributing soap, detergent, buckets, bailers and more. Caritas is also funding medicines like antibiotics to help with the infections, and basic clothing necessities like underwear. The aid is getting to places like Sampang Bayan the same way the food did—by truck or car or boat, passed through many caring hands.