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International and local Caritas efforts underway in the Philippines

Packing aid a church centre in cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Packing aid a Church centre in Cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Aid is rushing to the Philippines from Caritas organisations around the world after Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) battered the country last weekend.

Caritas Germany have just ordered 10,000 shelters, hygiene kits and household kits for one of the worst hit islands of Leyte, due for delivery next week. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has chartered a 747 jet to transport 40,000 tarpaulins. A plane left Holland yesterday with 24 tonnes of tarps and 3300 medical kits from Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid).

The international Caritas relief effort is coordinated with the national Caritas and the local Church. Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, has been part of an International Caritas Humanitarian Team on Leyte.

“We have never faced anything of this magnitude,” he said. “We greatly appreciate the support and solidarity from Caritas members around the world. By working together in a coordinated way, we can help save lives and rebuild communities.”

Catholic Relief Services will begin handing out 28,000 temporary shelters in the hard-hit Philippine city of Ormoc this weekend. The weatherproof tarpaulins will go to residents whose homes were destroyed by the typhoon.

The tarps, along with kits containing hygiene and household items, are coming by boat from Cebu City and will be stored in the gymnasium of a Catholic school as the distribution is organised.

Ormoc, a city of 190,000, is on the western side of Leyte, across a small range of mountains from the provincial capital Tacloban. Both cities experienced 13-foot tidal surges and devastating winds after Haiyan came ashore with winds approaching 200 mph. There are estimates that 90 percent of the structures in Ormoc were damaged or destroyed.

International Caritas Humanitarian Team member Eoghan Rice of Irish Caritas agency Trócaire said the situation in Ormoc is calm: “Boats are coming in with aid. There is a lot of helicopter activity. Assistance is arriving.”

The Caritas team has been able to travel to Tacloban and to other remote areas of Leyte. “From what I have seen, it’s a very calm situation,” he said. “People are waiting very peacefully for aid to arrive.”

He says that the same mild atmosphere is present at the docks, where 6000 people are queuing up to leave on ferries to nearby Cebu. In the queue for the boat, he met by chance a Philippine family with relations in his hometown of Dublin.

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie and Mapeth Baldesco, both 41, and their children Karyl, 17, Esme, 4 and Ellyza, 6, are from Tacloban, where over 4000 people are now said to have died. “We almost didn’t make it,” said Rollie. “We were hiding downstairs from the wind, but we didn’t expect the wave to come. We had to grab the small children and swim upstairs.”

The need of aid in Tacloban is great. “Our house was ruined. We had no water. We were able to survive on some tinned food. We had to leave the city because we were afraid of disease as there are bodies on the street,” he said.

In addition to the Ormoc distribution, CRS plans to give shelters to residents of Palo on the eastern coast of Leyte about 10 miles south of Tacloban. Office space has been secured in Catholic church buildings there.

Caritas relief operations include a number of areas. “We’re trying to reach the devastated areas. But it’s still very difficult. There’s still no electricity or petrol, and no communications with people on the ground,” said Msgr Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, the President of Caritas Philippines (NASSA).

The Church has delivered eight truckloads of food packs, water, clothing and cash to the Archdiocese of Capiz, where tens of thousands of people are in need.

The Church has also opened a base in Calbayog to help reach people on Samar Island. Fr. Cesar Aculan, who is working on relief operations, said it will provide a critical staging area for emergency relief operations.

Significant Caritas relief operation began on 13 December there in support of the work being done by parishes.“Typhoon victims here in need food, they are already hungry,” said Fr. Aculan.

Fr. Neil Tenafrancia of the Diocese of Borongan said there is no let up in the Church and other organisation’s relief efforts but the fuel crisis limits their operations. “That’s our problem here because we remain isolated. Many roads were destroyed by the typhoon,” he said.

Msgr Broderick Pabillo says the people of the Philippines has shown great solidarity.

“Filipinos are willing to help the victims, with donations and also with prayers. Here in Manila many volunteers are preparing the aid parcels that are being sent to the disaster areas,” he said. “They’re also welcoming the survivors who’ve managed to get to Cebu and then Manila.”

All Catholic Church Masses in the Philippines for the following nine days will be offered for the dead and the grieving families they left behind.

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Eye witness accounts in Tacloban as Philippine relief efforts continue

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

An International Caritas Humanitarian Team is in the worst hit areas of Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The team have linked up with local parishes and Caritas staff in Tacloban and Ormoc.

Team member Eoghan Rice said that the damage is incredible. “There are parts of Tacloban where 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed. The conditions people face are extraordinary.”

People are taking shelter in schools, shops and any other public buildings left standing in Tacloban. The Caritas team, led by Caritas Philippines Director Fr. Edwin Gariguez, visited a local seminary that has been turned into an evacuation centre where local Caritas and Church volunteers are helping over 500 survivors.

Mulvarosa Pibilra Perote is one of them, The 57 year old grandmother has five grown up children and three grandchildren, 11, 10 and 4 years old. They were at home when the storm hit.

“We were all very frightened,” she said. “We thought we were going to die. The children were crying. We were holding onto whatever we could. Many people died in our neighbourhood, including seven in just one family.”

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

The official death toll for Tacloban City rose to 2,000 on Thursday, but that covers only bodies that have been collected or visually confirmed by authorised officials.

“We saw recovery teams pulling bodies out of the rubble. There are dead people in body bags still on the side of the road,” said Eoghan Rice.

Many people remain missing, including Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, their 9 month old baby and his mother-in-law. “Nobody knew to expect the waves. My nephew’s family lived by the coast. I told him to move, but he didn’t listen. We’re still looking for them,” she said.

Caritas Philippines has been able to truck food and water to the area through its local network and provide blanket distributions of the aid. More aid is on the way with 18,000 food packs to arrive in Ormoc by the weekend and 18,720 for Tacloban.

Mulvarosa’s family has received rice, noodles and tinned goods. “My house is virtually destroyed. It has no roof,” she said. “I’m very grateful to receive food and shelter.”

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

Caritas Philippines has given €150,000 to 11 diocese to provide food and water. Over 20,000 bags of relief goods have been sent by Caritas Manila to 13 affected dioceses by truck and boat.

International relief is on its way too. Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid) has 24 tonnes of tarpaulins and 3300 medical kits en route by air to Philippines. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services has purchased 32,000 tarpaulins, of which 5000 have arrived in Cebu. With the arrival in country of tarps and water and sanitation kits, initial distributions will take place within the week.

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Aid making its way to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines

The Caritas Manila office has been transformed into loading centre as 250 volunteers work in shifts to pack aid destined for people in the most affected regions of the country.  By Eoghan Rice/Caritas

The Caritas Manila office has been transformed into loading centre as 250 volunteers work in shifts to pack aid destined for people in the most affected regions of the country. By Eoghan Rice/Caritas

By Eoghan Rice

Aid is arriving into the worst affected regions of the Philippines, bringing much needed supplies to people who lost everything in last weekend’s typhoon.

The Caritas Manila office has been transformed into loading centre as 250 volunteers work in shifts to pack aid destined for people in the most affected regions of the country.

Volunteers have been packing goods into family packs since Sunday and tomorrow (Wednesday) will see the first batch flown to the Leyte province, which bore the brunt of the disaster.

Each family pack contains 5 kilos of rice, 9 canned goods, 6 packets of noodles and 5 packets of protein rich manna rice. The packs are designed to last a family of five people three days and tomorrow 2,000 such packs will be sent to Leyte.  By Eoghan Rice/Caritas

Each family pack contains 5 kilos of rice, 9 canned goods, 6 packets of noodles and 5 packets of protein rich manna rice. The packs are designed to last a family of five people three days and tomorrow 2,000 such packs will be sent to Leyte. By Eoghan Rice/Caritas

Each family pack contains 5 kilos of rice, 9 canned goods, 6 packets of noodles and 5 packets of protein rich manna rice. The packs are designed to last a family of five people three days and tomorrow 2,000 such packs will be sent to Leyte

May Tiangco of Caritas Manila said: “The volunteers are mostly from local youth groups. They work here in shifts. They started packing on Sunday and tomorrow (Wednesday) we will send the first 2,000 food packs to nine affected areas. We plan on sending 20,000 packs over the next few weeks.”

The southern province of Cebu, one of the worst affected regions Credit: Caritas Philippines

The southern province of Cebu, one of the worst affected regions Credit: Caritas Philippines

In the southern province of Cebu, one of the worst affected regions, Irish nun Sr. Anne Healy is helping to deliver food to 3,000 people, many of them children.

“It’s a desperate situation”, said Sr. Healy. “Local people are donating clothes to people who lost everything, so that allows us to focus on getting food. [Because of shortages] the price of food has gone up so many people can’t afford to buy it. We have been able to buy rice and other products at local markets and distribute it to people.”

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Inside Myanmar’s ongoing conflict

Maran Ji suffered a miscarriage while fleeing fighting in Myanmar. She now has shelter and support, but can't return home. Photo by Made Ferguson/Trocaire.

Maran Ji suffered a miscarriage while fleeing fighting in Myanmar. She now has shelter and support, but can’t return home. Both photos by Made Ferguson/Trocaire.

By Maurice McQuillan, northern Myanmar

We have all seen the press coverage about Myanmar moving down the road towards democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and has been elected to the national assembly, while US President Obama recently visited the country.

Behind the headlines, the slow process of democratisation continues.

However, not so well known is the fact that ethnic conflict continues unabated in Myanmar’s more remote border regions. People in the Kachin State, in the north of Myanmar along the Chinese border, are caught in the crossfire of an ongoing conflict.

A ceasefire agreement that had been in effect for 17 years was broken on 9 June 2011, leading to a state of war between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the army of the Government of Myanmar.

Over 85,000 civilians have lost their homes and livelihoods and are now scattered across the region in makeshift jungle dwellings and ad-hoc camps.

In this dangerous situation, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) is helping to provide food, shelter and basic services to 24,000 people in some of the most remote areas of this region.

Myanmar3editedBut writing from Myitkina, where I am monitoring the work in the camps for the displaced, I know that this is about more than political wrangling, military struggle and statistics on the numbers of civilians displaced.

It is about ordinary men women and children.

On 7 December I travelled out from Myikyina to St Paul’s camp, about 25 miles from the Chinese border. In the camp I met a young woman called Maran Ji and she told me her story.

Maran Ji was heavily pregnant when the fighting reached her remote village. The village was at the centre of a battle for a key bridge. It was night and the village was being raked by small arms fire and the bridge was destroyed by mortars.

Maran Ji had to take her chances and flee on foot. She had to swim the river to get away, but after the trauma, exertion and stress she suffered a miscarriage on the far bank. She then trekked on foot all the way to St Paul’s camp.

It is now over six months since she fled her village. She has not been able to go back. She is doing well physically but the mental scars remain. With the help of Trócaire and our partners, she now has a roof over her head, she is healthy and she is safe. That is something.

Myanmar is moving forward towards democratisation. You will read much of this in the coming weeks, months and years. But spare a thought for Maran Ji in St Paul’s camp 25 miles from the Chinese border. 2013 will not be an easy year for her.

Maurice McQuillan is Trócaire’s Emergency Manager. This article was originally published on the Trócaire blog.

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Northern Uganda: Rebuilding Lives, Creating Futures

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Yes, we must. Stopping a disaster in Kenya

Locheramoe Kuwom is from the drought hit village of Kaaruko in Lokori, northern Kenya where people have little or nothing to eat. Credit: Eoghan Rice / Trocaire)

By Eoghan Rice

The Turkana district of northern Kenya is where human life began. The earliest known human remains have been found here and in the areas just north across the Ethiopian border.

The fact that human life has been sustained here for hundreds of thousands of years points to a fertile land capable of producing food. So, what has changed?

In a word: climate.

The facts speak for themselves: a two degree rise in temperature since 1960; the last eight years being the hottest on record; a 25 per cent decrease in rainfall over 10 years.

East Africa can produce food to sustain its population but the goalposts have been moved on it.

Today, the Turkana lands are dry and dusty as far as the eye can see. Every river on the 230km drive from Lodwar to  Lokitaung has dried-up. Where rivers once flowed, there are now dusty valleys.

On the land which was once home to the River Keiro, we witnessed a group of 30 local people digging holes five foot deep in an attempt to squeeze the last drops of water from the earth.

All over this region, the rivers which once sustained thousands of villages have disappeared. With their nearby river gone, people now have to walk for hours in search of water. When – if – they find some, it is often dangerously dirty. They drink it anyway. What choice do they have?

Andrew Lodio (pictured below) and his family built their homes on a site near to Lokitaung precisely because there was a river, perhaps 50m wide, running alongside it. That river is now as dry as the barren land that stretches for a 1000km on every side of it.

“Other years were different,” he says. “There have been droughts here before but never like this one. This one is worse because it is all over the region. Normally if it is bad here we can go somewhere else, but now it is bad all over. There is nowhere to go.”

Andrew is frail. His eyes tell of a man who has not eaten in days. Two days, to be precise.

Every village in this region tells a similar tale. Crops have failed, animals have died, people are starving. Their bellies empty, they look at the cloudless blue skies and pray for rain.

In the cradle of humanity, a humanitarian disaster is in full bloom.

 Eoghan Rice is a communications officer for Trocaire (Caritas Ireland)

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