NOTEBOOK: Why are the Leyte disaster evacuees getting hungry despite the massive relief aid?

Community Opinion & Analysis Apr 1, 2006 at 2:15 pm

I HAD A group phone conversation last Wednesday (March 29) with a representative of an agency involved in relief and rehabilitation project in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte.

I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that people in the evacuation centers near the town center of St. Bernard were getting hungry because food relief supplies were running out.

There are about 700 families from eight barangays (villages) who were asked to leave their houses and farms to avoid possible disasters. Some of these villages line the slopes of the mountain, a part of which crumbled as mud and buried Guinsaugon, claiming more than 1,000 lives in the morning of Friday, Feb. 17.

There are an average of 5.5 members per family, so there are approximately 3,850 people in the evacuation centers.

The first report we received early on in the weeks after the disaster, the warehouse in St. Bernard that is run and managed by the Department of Welfare and Social Development (DWSD) was already packed with relief goods. (All relief goods arriving in the area had to be stored in this warehouse.) The goods were quickly being received but, for whatever reason, they were slow in getting out to reach the evacuation centers. One reason heard was that the warehouse was under-staffed.

The subsequent report we received was that the evacuees were getting hungry and restless.
Now, the latest report is that the evacuees, because of hunger and the lack of facilities in the centers, are going back to their villages and farms.

There is a report that relief food is being hoarded by unnamed people in the warehouses.

My big question is: What happened to the massive donations and assistance from foreign agencies and organizations? Who received and who are handling these funds? Shouldn’t a small portion of these funds be used to feed the 700 families in the evacuation centers?

From Canada alone, I recall the federal government pledged or already sent $300,000; Manitoba announced a $100,000 assistance; Ontario pledged $200,000; the fundraising dinner of the Markham Federation of Filipino Canadians with the Federation of Chinese Canadian in Markham and the York Regional Police raised $125,000.

Then there’s the Red Cross’s huge contribution. Southern Leyte Governor Rosette Lerias said the province received cash donations of P5.2 million and US$20,360. The Korean Church Relief Team donated $20,000 but it wants the amount used only for the constructionof 30 houses. The local government of St. Bernard also received cash donations.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reported that monetary donations continue to pour in, a month after the disaster occured. Various donors from the United States sent a total of US$78,021.79, reported the Philippine Consul General in San Francisco, California, to the DFA.

I am not saying that all this money has disappeared. I am saying, why let the evacuees go hungry when there is huge money donated precisely for their benefit?

It is anticipated that they may have to stay in the centers for three to six months more because relocation sites are not ready yet. The local govern-ment has not offered any resettlement alternative.
The worst scenario is, people will move back to their villages which are identified disaster-prone areas.
Then there’s the issue of houses for the dislocated evacuees. Gov. Lerias said only 350 houses were needed for the survivors, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “But with the donations that are pouring in, we can build at least 1,000 units for the evacuees from other barangays,” said the governor.
With 700 families in the evacuation centers, there could be an oversupply of houses! And many NGOs, local and foreign, are pledging more houses! But the problem is, where to build them? In the meantime, evacuees are going hungry and want to return to their villages where they can produce food for themselves. But these are disaster-prone areas.