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Philippine floods: disastrous conditions

Written by Alison Laporte-Oshiro, Biñan, Laguna, Philippines

Whenever I read reports of a flood, I imagine a powerful river, swift-moving and ice-cold. The Colorado River transplanted to an unsuspecting town.

The flooding in Manila in the Philippines is nothing like that.

Manila has seen two weeks of persistent, torrential rainfall – a mix of a lingering typhoon and the southwest monsoon.

Local authorities estimate about 2.7 million people are now affected, with 440,000 in just 940 evacuation centres.

A patch of blue sky emerged overhead yesterday, but the emergency is far from over. The accumulated rainfall now fills many of Manila’s streets – stagnant, stinking, and swill-like.

It barely moves, even as people, bicycles, motorbikes, make-shift boats, and vehicles plough through the water to work, mass, or the market.

In some areas, the water rose to chest-level, and in extremely flooded areas, head-high.

Grit and garbage

It’s hard to see more than a few inches deep, but every imaginable thing seems to be floating in the water.

The flood seemed to have brought all of Manila’s grit and garbage to the surface. There is nothing cleansing about this flood.

It’s a familiar sight. I was in Manila in 2009 when Typhoon Ketsana hit. It triggered the worst flooding in decades – Manila Bay and the nearby lake expanded, rivers overflowed their banks, and homes filled with water.

The floods didn’t subside for several months. Human and rodent excrement found their way into the water, unleashing a deadly cholera and leptospirosis epidemic.

Working in the evacuation centres around Manila, I met parents who lost their children in just hours to diarrhoea.

So despite the break in the weather, I continue to worry that this could be a repeat of Typhoon Ketsana.

No child should live like this

All of the conditions for disease are present, such as standing and polluted water, inadequate – or nonexistent – sanitation, as well as hundreds of thousands of people in tightly-packed evacuation centres.

I visited an evacuation centre where over sixty people are sleeping in three school classrooms and share one toilet. Because of the standing water, the city shut off electricity in the area, so the toilet doesn’t flush.

Another evacuation centre is so crowded that several families live in an abandoned building on the grounds.  They designated an open area under the staircase as the ‘bathroom’, where children are told to defecate.

Children should not be made to live in such conditions. All children, including those in disaster conditions, have the right to a decent standard of living.

So much is needed – potable water, emergency toilets, bathing facilities, promotion of sanitation practices, mobile medical clinics, medicine, and more.

Help needs to arrive, quickly.

If you would like to support our work in emergencies, please donate to Save the Children’s Emergency Fund, which allows us to respond quickly when disaster strikes.

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