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Reaching remote areas of Philippines hit by typhoon

Fr Mark Granflor, director of the social action office of the archdiocese of Capiz (the diocesan Caritas), delivering food aid.  Credit Ryan Worms/Caritas

Fr Mark Granflor, director of the social action office of the archdiocese of Capiz (the diocesan Caritas), delivering food aid. Credit Ryan Worms/Caritas

“I didn’t want to leave my parishioners. But when the roof of my house was blown away and the wind shattered the windows, I had to get away,” said Fr Jose Taz Lasola from the Padre Pio mission in Roxas, on the island of Panay, one of the areas most seriously affected by the violent Typhoon Haiyan.

Standing where his wood and bamboo church once was, Fr Jose looks emotionally at the destroyed statue of a saint. Nothing can be salvaged from the building.

“My community of 800 parishioners is strong and united,” he said. “The families are busy building shelters in the remnants of their homes, but volunteers have already come to help me clear the debris. They want to rebuild their church, a place for gathering and unity. But first of all, the families need to get a roof over their heads and resume work.”

Fr Mark Granflor, director of the social action office of the archdiocese of Capiz (the diocesan Caritas), surveys the extent of the damage.

“Tacloban and the island of Leyte have received wide media coverage. But Panay mustn’t be forgotten. Here too, families have been very badly hit. More than 147,000 people have been affected, and you only have to look around to see that people need help,” he said.

In the coastal area of Roxas and in the town of Panay, almost all the houses have been severely damaged.

As rain starts to fall, the children play among the remnants of the fishing boats. Fishing is one of the main activities in this region. As in other parts of the Philippines, many fishermen have lost their boats and nets.

Fr Granflor said however, “Nothing seems to dampen their spirits. Yesterday I met a fisherman and when I asked him if he needed anything he said no and that everything was fine. Sure, he’d lost his home and his boat, but a more fortunate neighbour lent him his own boat when he’d finished fishing. So he was able to go fishing and bring back some fish for his family to eat, sell a little and start getting back on his feet.”

This is one of many stories that illustrate the courage and resilience shown by the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

“These people may have lost their homes and their clothes, but they haven’t lost their dignity,” says Father Mark.

The staff of the social action office of the archdiocese of Capiz have travelled to the remotest areas to carry out an accurate assessment of the damage caused by the typhoon and the needs of the population.

Teams of volunteers were rapidly set up to prepare bags of food items and clothing for distribution.
Shella and James immediately offered themselves as volunteers. While James loads two trucks with food that will be distributed during the day, Shella prepares bags of clothing for another distribution that will take place the following day.

“Helping my community does me good,” she said. “It makes me feel useful and takes my mind off what I’ve lost. You can always find someone who’s lost more than you have.”
The trucks are loaded, and they head off to a community behind the town of Panay. Along the way, farmers are already repairing their rice fields. “Agriculture is the second most important activity after fishing,” said Fr Mark.

This sector has also been badly hit by the typhoon. While the rice fields can be restored quite quickly, it will take years for the palm trees and coconut palms to be productive again.

The people are gathered in front of the roofless church. In this community the parish leaders have drawn up a list of 250 families that should receive aid on a priority basis. Each family will be entitled to a bucket containing three kilos of rice and potable water.

The distribution takes place calmly until sunset. The people who leave with enough food to feed their families for two days are grateful. However, they would also like to receive aid to rebuild their homes, or at least have plastic sheeting and ropes to strengthen their temporary shelters.

The next day the same message echoes from the community of Linateran, a neighbourhood in the small town of Panay.

“I need a roof to shelter my family,” said Alex, a taxi driver who has come to get a bag of clothes from the distribution organised by the diocesan Caritas. With Prince, the young son he’s carrying in his arms, he said, “If we could rebuild our homes, then we’d be able to move forward. Conditions are currently very difficult, and I’m afraid my son might get sick.”

Several members of the community ask us to visit the neighbourhood with them in order to see the extent of the damage for ourselves. The destruction is all too real, and all the houses we see still standing have suffered substantial damage.

In front of her house, Myrna, a mother of four children, tries to recover the nipas, the clusters of palm leaves that are traditionally used to make roofs.

“We’re still lacking everything, and we haven’t received any aid from the government,” she said. “But in our community we help each other out as much as we can. When one of has a little food, we share what’s left over with neighbouring families. But what can we do about our homes? We have no money to buy building materials. So we do what can. All the aid you can bring us is welcome.”

This week Caritas will receive 13,000 plastic sheets, which will be distributed in the affected areas. They are in addition to the thousands that have already been distributed on the island of Leyte.

“It’s true that Tacloban and the island of Leyte were devastated,” says Father Mark, “but the other regions the typhoon passed through seem to have been forgotten. Here too, people are suffering.”

Despite the great solidarity that unites them, often the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan can only rely on international aid for any hope of relief. And this aid has to be channelled to all the regions affected by the disaster. That’s what the members of the Caritas confederation are striving to do.

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Temporary shelter distribution after Philippines typhoon

A carpenter, two assistants, and several volunteers work to repair a house damaged by Typhoon Haiyan with materials provided by CRS. @Jim Stipe/CRS

A carpenter, two assistants, and several volunteers work to repair a house damaged by Typhoon Haiyan with materials provided by CRS. @Jim Stipe/CRS

Thousands of Filipinos are sleeping under a roof for the first time since Typhoon Haiyan struck thanks to Caritas and its generous supporters. Specially designed tarps provide durable, low-cost, easy to build shelter until more permanent structures can be built.

Caritas member Catholic Relief Services distributed Wednesday 2,243 tarps for emergency shelters in Palo and Ormoc. This brings the total of tarps distributed so far to 3,358 across 9 barangay (villages) in Palo and Ormoc. In all, 13,570 tarps for emergency shelters are in country or distributed. Another 29,000 CRS tarps will arrive before the end of the month.

More positive developments include a municipal water supply is now functioning in Tacloban City and Palo. Water and sanitation and hygiene supplies which arrived at Cebu airport will be sent to Palo tomorrow.

And 3 commercial airlines have been granted air space and are operating on a limited basis from Manila directly to Tacloban as of today. With these flights and helicopters that will be running regular routes between Cebu, Ormoc and Palo, concerns about available passenger transport are easing.

Huge goals remain. Caritas has a long-term approach looks well beyond shelters into fully restoring the lives and livelihoods in the areas under our care.

Numbers give some indication of the work needed beyond the initial relief phase.

• The total number of displaced persons is now more than 4.4 million, with the number of total affected nearly 10 million.
• Families inside 1,526 evacuation centres (continuing the trend of a small daily decrease in the number of evacuation centres over the past several days) is nearly 86,000.
• The official death toll from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Committee has crossed the 4,000 threshold and now stands at 4,011.
• Unchanged in the past several days are the 1,602 who remain missing.
• Nearly 650,000 houses are now reported as damaged. Of those around 325,000 are destroyed.

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Hitching aid flight to worst hit areas of Philippines

Mark Mitchell, coordinator of the international Caritas emergency team with some Caritas. tarps. Credit: Ryan Worms/Caritas

Mark Mitchell, coordinator of the international Caritas emergency team with some Caritas. tarps. Credit: Ryan Worms/Caritas

“We’re bringing 500 tarpaulins sent by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand to Tacloban,” said Mark Mitchell, coordinator of the international Caritas emergency team responding to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The Australian Air Force took the Caritas cargo on a C-130 Hercules from Cebu, the main hub of relief efforts.“We saw the ceaseless activity of international aid and the challenges that come with it,” he said.

On the military airbase of Cebu, the action is ceaseless. Military cargo planes from the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan take materials to the areas hit by the storm and return with survivors fleeing from the devastated cities.

The Caritas team traveled with their cargo to Tacloban, one the worst hit cities. “The damage to Tacloban is incredible,” said Mark Mitchell. “The tarps that we’re bringing are greatly needed by survivors for temporary shelter.”

At the airport in Tacloban, Fr Rick from Palo, a town further south down the coast, has come with a truck to get the tarps. They will be distributed in the next few days. They are among many thousands of tarpaulins and other items en route to the affected areas for the construction of emergency shelters.

In the airport, there is a long line of survivors waiting to be evacuated. Unlike in other areas we’ve visited, the children we meet waiting to board the Herucules don’t smile. Their faces are marked instead by fatigue and trauma.

The survivors of the typhoon are people who the need the basic necessities that planes carry. But we also know that the internal wounds of the victims, especially among the children, will need counseling to recover.

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Solidarity in the Philippines for typhoon survivors

Vilma and children at a Caritas Cebu food distribution in San Remigio. Ryan Worms/Caritas

Vilma and children at a Caritas Cebu food distribution in San Remigio. Ryan Worms/Caritas

By Ryan Worms

“Solidarity is important to the Philippines,” said Trixie Suarez, headmistress of the Singapore School on Cebu, which is one of the islands badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan.

“Our students and teachers organised a fundraiser so that in partnership with Caritas we can help people affected by natural disasters,” she said.

Mrs Suarez, fifteen students and members of Caritas Cebu, the diocesan Caritas, distributed food aid and other aid items Tuesday in the north of Cebu to 3650 survivors of the deadly storm.

They had been shocked by the extend of the damage in San Remegio and Medellin towns. Uprooted trees and electric cables are tangled up on the side of the road. The houses which aren’t completely destroyed, bear the marks of extreme violence of the typhoon. Both the churches from which the aid is being delivered from are damaged.

International aid still faces significant logistical challenges, delaying distributions of goods needed by people. Food and material for temporary shelters are still lacking.

Crowds of hundreds of people quickly gather to receive the food packages. Despite the urgent needs, the distributions were peaceful and the aid was warmly welcomed by survivors in San Remegio and Medellin.

Vilma, a widow with her two young children, is a resident of San Remegio.

“Our house has no roof. We sleep outside, but fortunately we have a small terrace with a roof still intact. I had some reserves of rice so I’m not complaining,” she said.

She says others need help more.

“This is Thelma , she has no home, food or clothing. She lost everything. She lives with her child and she is 8 months pregnant. She must be helped first, I can wait,” said Vilma. “This is Emma. She also must be helped immediately because she lost her home and she lives with her five young children.”

Their solidarity is an inspiration as we redouble our efforts to make sure aid gets through.

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Climate change talks in Warsaw

Stewardship of creation prayer space.  Care of CAFOD

Stewardship of creation prayer space. Care of CAFOD

SCIAF (Caritas Scotland) Policy Officer Jo O’Neill is in Warsaw with SCIAF partners CIDSE and Caritas India to take part in this year’s UN climate talks.

It is a tragic irony that as a super-typhoon devastated the Philippines last week, officials from around the world gathered at the annual UN climate talks in Poland to discuss action on climate change.

While we can never say definitively that one single weather event is caused by climate change we do know that changes to our climate could make weather events – like typhoons – stronger and more intense.

Yesterday, I arrived in Poland (which is hosting this year’s talks) along with our partners Caritas India and CIDSE to talk to politicians about how climate change is placing a heavy burden on the planet and some of the world’s poorest people.

Last week’s super-typhoon may be an ‘extreme weather event’ but all over the world communities are struggling every day to cope with the consequences of climate change.

Father D’Souza, Director of Caritas India, has told me about the impact of climate change on some of the communities in his country.

In the Sundarban region of India, changes in temperature and rainfall are affecting crops like watermelon and chilli and farming is becoming much more difficult due to changes to the land. Warming oceans also means that catching fish – which are sensitive to such changes – is becoming harder too.

So what do we want from these climate talks?

SCIAF believes that we have a duty to care for creation and that we should all have the opportunity to live life in dignity and to the full.

The poor and vulnerable have done least to cause climate change but are suffering the most from its impacts. There is a moral and historical responsibility, therefore, for richer countries – which have done most to cause the problem – to lead the fight against climate change.

The world is due to make a global deal on climate change in 2015. But it is important that this deal is fair and just and is ambitious enough to protect the dignity and rights of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Yeb Sano, representing the Philippines at the climate talks, said last week “the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness”. And he is right. But to do this leaders must show real courage and take bold action.

I’ll be sharing our experiences of the talks here in Warsaw over the next few days. Look out for us on Twitter using #COP19 #UNFCCC and #IamSCIAF to follow the action and share your views.

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Caritas is helping the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick and parishioners at a church in Palo that was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. © Catholic Relief Services

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick and parishioners at a church in Palo that was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan.
© Catholic Relief Services

“There is devastation everywhere and the victims are in desperate need of everything,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, after visiting destroyed villages in the province of Leyte hard hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

“Caritas has to step up its distribution of food and materials for temporary shelters. The mobilisation of the Church and the solidarity of neighbouring dioceses and Caritas organisations around the world have made us confident that we’ll be able to face the challenges of this major emergency,” he said.

In Ormoc, most of the houses have been destroyed and people are still trying to salvage materials from their homes so they can build temporary shelters.

Demetria Omega is one of the typhoon’s victims in Ormoc. In her stall containing a few fruits and vegetables and surrounded by her grandchildren, she talks about her traumatic experience.

“When the typhoon struck I thought I was going to die,” she said. “All the houses were flying apart and it was extremely difficult for my son, grandchildren and I to protect ourselves.

“My house was behind me, and now nothing is left. First of all we need food and then the wherewithal to build a shelter.”

Demetria is doing whatever she can to deal with the problems. “We can’t just sit and do nothing. I managed to get a small $25 loan and set up this fruit and vegetable stall. So I hope I’ll be able to support my family and deal with this disaster. It’s important to keep busy and do what I can for my grandchildren,” she said.

While the devastation in Ormoc is substantial, it’s even greater in Tacloban, especially in the village of Palo.

“When I look out of the window of my damaged house, it looks like a valley of death,” says Msgr John Du, Archbishop of Palo, one of the villages hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the province of Leyte.

“In Palo, 95 percent of the buildings have disappeared. We’re burying bodies in the outskirts of parishes. Everything is lacking, although aid for the victims is being organised and we’re distributing food and materials so temporary shelters can be swiftly built,” he said.

A distribution of emergency shelter materials took place Monday in Ormoc and Palo.

With the arrival of one truck carrying 2,400 CRS (Catholic Relief Services is a CRS member) prepositioned tarps and another truck carrying 3,690 Cordaid (Caritas Netherlands) tarps; in the two field offices, there are now a total of 6,870 tarps for 6,572 families.

An additional 3,500 tarps have arrived in Cebu and will be sent to field offices as soon as transport is available, making a total of 10,370 tarps for emergency shelter already in country.


Ten days after the arrival of the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, Caritas has a more precise idea of the damage caused and the victims’ needs. International aid efforts are still facing great logistical challenges in terms of their capacity to deliver food and other crucial items to the affected people who have lost everything.

Affected villages in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Panay and Mindoro have had very little or no assistance so far.

In this context, the Catholic Church and Caritas network has proved to be vitally important in providing frontline aid delivery. Caritas Philippines has distributed 68,310 food packs distributed to 13 dioceses, with 345,000 people benefitting from relief aid.

Msgr Broderick Pabillo, the National Director of Caritas Philippines, thanked the Caritas organisations from around the world and asked them to carry on mobilising resources in order to be able to respond to the needs of the population.

“The prayers, solidarity and mobilisation of our brothers and sisters around the world will enable us to make progress,” he said.

Reporting by Ryan Worms

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Parts of Philippines like a “valley of death” after typhoon

6,500 shelter kits arrive in Cebu port (November 17th) to be shipped to Leyte island, where they will be distributed to people who lost their homes in Typhoon Yolande/Haiyan. This is the first batch of Caritas shelter kits. Over 30,000 more are due to arrive over the coming days. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

6,500 shelter kits arrive in Cebu port (November 17th) to be shipped to Leyte island, where they will be distributed to people who lost their homes in Typhoon Yolande/Haiyan. This is the first batch of Caritas shelter kits. Over 30,000 more are due to arrive over the coming days. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

Caritas member Catholic Relief Services plans to distribute temporary shelter materials today in Palo, one of the worst hit towns in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.

Working out of the local Church, CRS handed out hundreds of tarps in Palo where they will replace roofs blown off by Haiyan to house families now living without roofs or, in many cases, any sort of housing.

Palo is a town on the island of Leyte, south of the main city of Tacloban on the east coast where the storm made landfall with winds approaching 200 mph.

Archbishop John Du of Palo said, “When you stand on the hill at my place in Palo, you look down and what you see is like a valley of death, as if a bomb has been dropped – almost everything is destroyed.

“In spite of that we are still hopeful that we will rise from this ordeal, because of the support of our neighboring dioceses, provinces and countries.”

Catholic Relief Services’ Jen Hardy reports from to Palo.

It was an all-day trip, a long drive that went up to the north end of the island, around the mountains that run down the centre of Leyte, then south through Tacloban to Palo. The road was mostly clear, but there are snarled power lines everywhere.

In Ormoc, there’s a buzz of activity. People are out doing things. But in Palo, it’s the opposite. There’s very little going on there. It’s quiet. The markets are not open. I saw no food for sale. The destruction is so bad, people don’t know where to start. I heard maybe one chainsaw working, that’s it.

There is no electricity. People were cooking whatever rice they had over fires made from salvaged debris.

I heard a story from a man in one neighborhood who lived in a two-story concrete house and thought he’d be fine. But when Haiyan hit, the water was pouring in like a tsunami while the roof was being torn off by cyclone winds. He thought he’d die, but he survived. He said many of his neighbors died.

Palo is the seat of the archdiocese that includes Tacloban. CRS is working with the Church there. There are several hard-hit parishes near Palo, including Sante Fe and San Joaquin. No one knows how many people died there, but one priest told me he thought he’d lost between 1/3 and 2/3 of his parishioners.

We went farther south from Palo and found small towns that were hit just as badly with massive numbers of people impacted by the storm. In Tacloban, there is a buzz of activity with planes landing and many journalists. No one has gotten to these places farther south. The people have been on their own.
As you travel through this area, you look out on a landscape that before the typhoon was lush and verdant. Now, when you look into the mountains, it’s completely different. The trees are all toppled. What used to be green is now brown.

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