Aid Groups: Filipinos in Typhoon Evacuation Centers Risk Catching COVID

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Riñoza
Cotabato, Philippines, and Manila
Aid Groups: Filipinos in Typhoon Evacuation Centers Risk Catching COVID People look out from an evacuation center in Surigao City, Philippines, days after Typhoon Rai struck the region, Dec. 21, 2021.
Jilson Tiu/Greenpeace via Reuters

More than 300,000 Filipinos who were uprooted by a super typhoon last month risk catching COVID-19 in cramped evacuation centers where they still are sheltering in the central and southern Philippines, humanitarian agencies warned on Tuesday.

The threat of the coronavirus disease spreading to the evacuation sites has become a real concern amid a spike in the number of new daily cases, according to Oxfam, the British NGO.

“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,” Lot Felizco, Oxfam’s country director for the Philippines, said in a statement Tuesday.

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

Typhoon Rai, known as Odette among Filipinos, struck 11 regions and damaged 1.4 million houses and other buildings after it made landfall on Dec. 16, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. The storm killed 406 people and left widespread damage, which has been compared to that of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. 

On Tuesday, the health department logged 28,471 new COVID-19 infections, the first time in five days that the figure fell below the 30,000 mark. The highest daily tally since the pandemic began – 39,004 – was recorded on Friday.

Philippine troops in Zamboanga load food packs intended for evacuation centers housing thousands of those displaced by Typhoon Rai, Dec. 20, 2021. [Western Mindanao Command/AFP]

Of 340,000 displaced people, the majority, or 228,529, were staying in 1,175 evacuation centers, official statistics showed. 

Among immediate concerns are the lack of clean water sources that have led to an outbreak of diarrhea in Siargao Island in the south as well as Palawan province in the southwest, officials said.

Oxfam said there were reports of typhoon survivors in Siargao and Dinagat islands dying from dehydration linked to diarrhea. 

“The health and safety of typhoon survivors should be our priority. We hope the government can place them in homes as soon as possible,” Felizco said.

Meanwhile, Gustavo Gonzalez, the United Nations Philippines resident coordinator, said staffers had been infected with coronavirus, forcing them to limit movement and causing “supply chain constraints.” 

“We need to urgently scale up support to put people on a path to rapid recovery and reconstruction. If we do not, their resilience will be compromised,” Gonzalez said. 

“Typhoon Rai brought a fresh crisis on top of an existing crisis as COVID-19 cases are surging across the country, overstretching health facilities, sickening staff, forcing movement restrictions and causing supply chain constraints. This cascade of challenges is severely hampering operations on all fronts.”


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