From Manila, a shoutout from Devex

Volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross rescue families affected by floods. Photo by: Jun Pacariem / Philippine Red Cross

Atop a tall chair, a man, hunched, leans left sideways on the wall, sleeping. A few feet from him, a mother appears to nod off as she breast-feeds her months-old child. Around them, people scramble for their own space inside a place they — for now — call home.

The scene on my TV screen is typical in the wake of a typhoon. The Philippines belongs to a typhoon belt, enduring a score of strong weather disturbances for several months each year. But we don’t have a typhoon — it’s monsoon rains — and it’s now deemed worse than what the local weather agency described the worst flooding in the country’s history, caused by Typhoon Ketsana, known locally as Ondoy, which struck in 2009.

I have to agree. I live in an area where I never had to worry about flooding creeping into my home. But the feeling of comfort is gone, as rains continue — 11 days, 11 nights and counting — and I see water on the streets rising.

While my fear has yet to turn into reality, some of my colleagues in the Devex newsroom weren’t as fortunate. They were trapped in their homes, with chest-deep water on the first floor, and had to carry furniture and appliances to higher ground. They also had to do without electricity.

This is just a flavor of what aid workers face every day in challenging environments: They are not just responders but oftentimes victims themselves.

The aid community has always been a partner to the government in responding to disasters in the Philippines. Currently, World Vision Philippines is coordinating with local authorities to reach flood-hit communities, and the local Red Cross chapter is carrying out search and rescue and evacuating people. Save the Children, meanwhile, says it’s ready to respond to the needs of displaced children and their families.

The death toll by the morning of Thursday (Aug. 9) stood at 72: 53 from Typhoon Saola and 19 from the monsoon rains that immediately followed. The number is small compared with Ondoy, which claimed the lives of 464 people. Some observers say this indicates better preparedness on the side of the government and nongovernmental groups. Others, basing on the floodwater level, may disagree.

Floods are a perennial problem for the Philippines, especially in Mega Manila, where many areas go under water even with a small amount of rain, prompting heavy traffic.

As such, talks turn anew to flood control and disaster preparedness. The Japan International Cooperation Agency, following Ondoy, gave a 3.35 billion yen ($42 million in current terms) grant to the Philippines for the construction of three Doppler radars to ensure accurate weather forecasting — the Philippine weather agency had gained infamy for being off in its predictions in the past. One of the radars is now in operation.

“While the bright days ahead will occasionally be marred by showers, or even typhoons, we can assure the people that our administration is readier than ever to respond to these threats, and to help our people recover from potential damage,” Philippine President Benigno Aquino IIIsaid May 2 during the inauguration of the new state-of-the art radar system in a town south of the country’s capital.

Ondoy caused more than $260 million in damage. We don’t know yet how much this “nameless” disaster will cost the economy. The immediate question is how to best help the nearly 2 million people affected. And we can all help. The following aid groups are now accepting donations:

Do you know other organizations responding to the monsoon flooding in the Philippines? Let us know by placing your comments below.

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About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.