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Typhoon Haiyan: Rebuiliding three months on

“Seeing those broken boats makes you realise the scale of the destruction”, says Julia Schurch, Health Manager, looking at the sea. We’re standing on the roof of Save the Children’s field office in Estancia, Panay Island, which was badly hit by typhoon Haiyan, three months ago. There are heavy showers, grey skies and the wind is howling. Julia has been here since before Christmas and will finish her mission in a couple of days but the overall picture, she says, is very difficult.

“Don’t forget, this is a poor island so even a minor typhoon would have caused serious damage,” she adds. “With a typhoon like Haiyan, structures that weren’t solid enough stood no chance.” We’re now looking out over Estancia: there’s devastation everywhere. And this is not even the worst-hit area of the Philippines. “It’s difficult to say which are signs of poverty and what is damage caused by the typhoon,” remarks Julia. Many houses have tarpaulins instead of iron roofs. In other places, the iron is bent or has been tied down, making the house beneath look like it’s been gift-wrapped. These are some of more than a million homes devastated by the typhoon.

Back to basics

Three months on, Julia’s team have shifted from treating injuries and diseases to providing basic healthcare. Two mobile clinics are run from Estancia. The health team also visits island communities with limited access to services, while the nutrition teams are busy preventing a rise in malnutrition levels.

Before Haiyan hit, at least one third of all children under five in this area already suffered from chronic malnutrition. Those figures could easily rise due to reduced access to food and the disaster’s impact on water, sanitation and hygiene – putting children’s lives in danger.

“So far, we have not seen a huge rise in numbers”, says Jessica Bourdaire from Save the Children’s nutrition team in Estancia. We‘ve only documented a small number of cases, but “if those cases are not treated, those children will die”.

An area with chronic malnutrition – even before Haiyan

That is why Save the Children is making it a priority to inform mothers in the hardest-hit areas about feeding practices, nutrition, and the importance of breastfeeding. Given the area’s chronic malnutrition problem this is not an easy task. “Changing behaviour takes time,” Jessica says. “We are taking this opportunity to raise people’s awareness of malnutrition, how to identify, treat and prevent it”. The idea is also to educate local health workers on malnutrition in order to pass the knowledge on, making them capable of tackling any future malnutrition issues.

In fact, the majority of Save the Children’s staff in Panay Island are local people. “Really amazing and so qualified”, says Julia. Since half of the area’s health structures were damaged by the typhoon, many of them would now be out of work. Save the Children is  providing them with both training and an income, and is also rebuilding some of the damaged buildings they used to work in. Helping them will enable them to help others. “For me, they are the heroes,” says Julia.


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