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A month after Typhoon Odette: Oxfam raises concern over risk of COVID transmission among displaced typhoon survivors

Distribution of hygiene and water kits to typhoon survivors in barangay Mabini, Del Carmen town, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte. This assistance is provided by Oxfam and partners Community Organizers Multiversity and United Youth of the Philippines-Women, in coordination with Sentro Para sa Ikauunlad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya (SIKAT) supported by EU ECHO. (Photo: Heyssab Areef Hassan/Oxfam)

Humanitarian and development organization Oxfam Pilipinas on Monday expressed concern for Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) survivors who remain in evacuation sites as COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise.

“We’ve seen record-high COVID-19 cases in the Philippines in the past weeks. While many of the typhoon-hit families have been able to come home, there are still hundreds of thousands of typhoon survivors who are now without houses and are still staying in congested evacuation sites,” said Oxfam Pilipinas Country Director Lot Felizco.

According to the NDRRMC’s January 17 Situational Report, there are still 228,529 displaced typhoon survivors staying in evacuation centers. Of those still displaced, 121,997 are from Region 7, 52,940 are in Region 8 and 51,354 are in CARAGA. Government data also show that around 400,000 houses have been totally destroyed by the typhoon (402,520 based on DSWD data, 363,982 based on NDRRMC).

“It has been a month since Typhoon Odette pummelled the Philippines and yet almost a quarter of a million Filipinos are still in evacuation centers,” said Felizco. “The problem is that many of these facilities have no access to potable water, increasing the risk of the spread of illness.”

The provincial health office in Southern Leyte also expressed concern after water sources of affected municipalities have tested positive for E. coli. There have been reports of diarrhea cases as well,” said Josephine Paredes, who is the project manager of ECLIPSE, Oxfam Pilipinas’ partner in Southern Leyte.

Meanwhile, thousands of typhoon survivors do not have access to water and toilets in Palawan. News reports also mentioned cases of people dying from dehydration caused by diarrhea in Siargao and Dinagat Islands.

Oxfam has previously called for provisions of shelter materials to help typhoon survivors rebuild and in turn decongest evacuation centers. While Oxfam and other non-government organizations have continued to distribute water cans, water tablets, hygiene kits and sanitation facilities, there is still more needed.

“For typhoon survivors, rebuilding their livelihoods will be a lengthy process, during which there will be a need for continued support for the supply of clean water, access to sanitation facilities, hygiene supplies, and healthy food. Increased disease surveillance supported by health care and reproductive health services are needed to ensure that there are no outbreaks and women and newborn children are protected and nurtured as they reclaim their lives,” Oxfam’s partner in Palawan, A Single Drop for Safe Water Executive Director Kevin Lee said.

While there are no specific reports yet about COVID-19 cases in evacuation areas, Eastern Visayas recorded its highest positivity rate since the start of the pandemic at 45%. The rest of the country has recorded similar high percentages.

“With the Philippine government again limiting mobility and transit in the country due to the high number of COVID-19 cases, relief operations may again be jeopardized. We hope more groups and the government can increase support for typhoon survivors,” said Felizco.

“The health and safety of typhoon survivors should be our priority. We hope the government can place them in homes as soon as possible. In the meantime, the public and private sectors can work together to make their stay in the evacuation centers more comfortable,” she said, adding that the evacuees will need enough space and partitions for physical distancing and safety, especially for women and girls’ protection.

Since Typhoon Odette struck, Oxfam Pilipinas and partner organizations have assisted more than 62,000 individuals. Of these, 52,570 have received water tablets, hygiene kits and other hygiene-related support. There were 8,825 provided with emergency food packs and 8,100 given shelter and sleeping kits, construction materials and solar lamps.

Contact information: 

Kristine Sabillo-Guerrero
Senior Officer for Media and Digital Influencing, Oxfam Pilipinas