Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines: Food as a starting point to recovery


By Darcy Knoll, Emergency Communications Coordinator for CARE International in the Philippines

It’s around nine o’clock in the morning at the centre of the village of Sulod, Samar region, in the Philippines.

The weather is warm already and the bright sun leaves promise it will be hotter still midday. We’ve gathered here for a food distribution, organized by CARE with its local partner OCCCI as part of emergency efforts to assist those affected by super typhoon Haiyan.

Volunteer crews, survivors themselves, unload boxes and bags of corned beef, sardines, salt, sugar, mongo beans, cooking oil, dried fish and rice.

Standing patiently waiting is a group of women and men of varying ages, mothers holding babies, grandchildren supporting elderly grandparents.

Delecia Cabuquit, 65, pleasantly chats with neighbors as she waits. She was at home with her 87-year-old mother the day the typhoon struck. The two went up to the second floor of her home to wait out the storm and prayed the rosary. “I’m still praying,” she adds.

Heavy winds tore off her roof and flood waters in the seaside village filled the bottom floor of her home. Eventually, the water left and, while shaken, they began to recover.

The last two months have been hard though, she says, especially supporting her mother.

Distributing food

A voice over a megaphone, the crowd perks up to await instructions. Christianity is dominant here like much of the rest of the country, and so they say three short prayers together and the distribution begins.

Thanks to the support of its generous donors, CARE was able to work with its partners to provide emergency food assistance to hard-hit communities shortly following the storm. Since then, CARE has distributed food to roughly 88,000 people in the areas of Panay, Leyte and Samar.

The crowd is calm, patient, composed. Everyone waits for their name to be called and then proceeds with their plastic bag to receive their cans of corned beef, sardines and other items. It’s enough food to feed a family of five for two weeks or more.

For some, the bags of rice are too heavy to lift, but community members help each other out and carry the 25 kilogram bags or load them on a tricycle to be taken home.

Part of the strategy behind choosing the location of this distribution is to ensure it’s in the centre of the community, close to people’s homes so they don’t have to carry the items far. This is especially important for woman and the elderly.

These storm survivors are extremely thankful for the food they’ve received. They say so repeatedly to anyone associated with the process, a thank you they clearly want passed on to all involved in supporting CARE’s work.

As more markets begin to open and the recovery continues, CARE will look to phase out its food distributions and shift its focus to helping restore livelihoods for the most vulnerable people, so they can meet their own food needs.

A new year begins

A new year has begun and, despite many challenges, there is a sense of optimism when meeting and talking with various people. After all, today is the first day of school since the storm.

Ruby Labiran Ragoro, 41, a teacher at the nearby Basey 1 Central Elementary School, stands confident with the food bag she just received. She says she is happy to be back teaching again. It’s good for the kids to regain this sense of normalcy, she adds, although they still see debris from the storm outside their classroom.

“We’re recovering, we need to,” says Ruby. “The effect of the typhoon is lessened because of good hearted people helping us recover and helping us stand again.” 

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