How Are the Children?
It was a scene reminiscent of last year’s Typhoon Washi: women and children weeping in silence and men who were in shock. On Monday, December 3rd, Typhoon Bopha battered the southern Philippines until early Tuesday morning, leaving behind a trail of devastation that particularly affected children.
“We didn’t know what a typhoon was until we were hit,” says Veruela Municipal Social Welfare and Development officer Elvira Dagaraga, shedding tears as she recalls the experience. “Never in my 30 years of living here had we experienced such a thing.”
Veruela, located thirty-four miles from the boundary of Compostela Valley, was also affected.
“There are more than 6,000 households in Veruela, an equivalent population of more than 33,000 people,” says Dagaraga. “All were affected. This number includes 16,000 children who are very distressed; some can’t be reached because their villages remain inaccessible due to the flooding and fallen trees. We have more than 2,200 children of all ages in our evacuation centers and many are showing signs of serious distress, barely speaking and not engaging with their families or friends. We urgently need psycho-social help. — But, we have no expertise to provide it, ourselves.”
Seven-year-old survivor Anna was found alone on a hilltop in Barangay Del Monte. At the height of the typhoon, her father brought Anna and her siblings to higher ground.
In a very faint voice, Anna recalls, “When our house collapsed, my father carried me on his back and put me beside a coconut tree to shield me from the rain. Other neighbors were also there.” She says that her father told her to stay put while he fetched other family members.
As her father turned back to get the other members of their family, Anna saw her mother and grandmother making their way up the hill. As her father stretched out his arm to help them, a flying metal sheet hit the two women. Both died instantly.
Anna’s father collapsed, overcome by grief, amid the powerful wind and intense rain. “I don’t remember anything more,” says the second grader when asked about the events which followed.
Milagros dela Cruz, a midwife assisting Dagaraga, says that a woman brought Anna to the gymnasium, which serves as an evacuation center for over 420 families. “Anna could barely walk because of the wounds on her feet. She also has a hematoma on her right shoulder.”
Dela Cruz cleaned Anna’s wounds and gave her an anti-tetanus injection, but notes that Anna’s father is in a state of shock and is now unable to care for her. She is now being cared for by Dela Cruz and Dagaraga.
“We don’t know how many ‘Annas’ are still out there because several of these villages remain inaccessible,” says Carin van der Hor, Country Director for Plan International in the Philippines.
“Technically, she is not an unaccompanied child because she still has a father, but with his present condition, he cannot give Anna the care and protection that she urgently needs. Anna has lost her nurturing and caring environment,” she adds.
Creating Safe Spaces
While there are no reports of child abuse or child-trafficking, experience from Typhoon Washi shows these risks increase the longer survivors remain in evacuation centers. The absence of private and child-friendly spaces in evacuation centers also make children vulnerable to all forms of abuse.
Mardy Halcon, Plan International’s Communications Officer has visited the municipalities of Monkayo, Compostela, New Bataan, and Montevista — all in Compostela Valley. Because of the amount of devastation, they are unable to receive a clear number of households that have survived Typhoon Bopha. “Barangay Andap which is part of New Bataan, the worst hit municipality in Compostela Valley, used to have 200 to 300 houses. Barangay Andap is now covered with rocks and boulders that are bigger than the houses."
How Plan is Responding
Plan has been at the center of events since Bopha struck its deadly wrath, working with Irish Aid, an NGO based in Ireland, to deliver 400 tents to the New Bataan municipality. Plan has also delivered water jars and hygiene kits and has begun construction on a Child-Friendly Space (CFS) and a breast-feeding space for lactating mothers.
Halcon, who has spoken to the elderly in Compostela, recalls being told that they haven’t experienced a typhoon as devastating as Bopha since 1912.
Plan International is currently raising 1.5 million dollars to respond to Typhoon Bopha. To learn more about our support programs or to find out how you can help bring relief to Typhoon Bopha and other disaster victims, please visit our Report Back on Bopha page.