The family’s livelihood, relief, and schools are what children need most to cope and recover, but even these are still scarce in areas devastated by the supertyphoon, more than four months after.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Children are the most vulnerable during and after a disaster. Thus, immediately after supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) struck the Visayas islands, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) conducted psychosocial first aid on children traumatized by the tragedy that hit their province.
The findings of the CRC and other NGOs servicing children were shared in a forum series dubbed Ulat Bulilit. In the second series of Ulat Bulilit, which was sponsored by the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, held last March 5, children’s organizations and People Surge, an organization of survivors of typhoon Yolanda, reported the situation of children after the typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc in Eastern Visayas.
“When typhoon Yolanda hit large parts of Leyte and Samar, most of the victims did not expect the extent of the damage that it caused primarily to their lives, livelihood, and their communities. These unexpected or sudden events have caused trauma, emotional stress and anxiety, especially among children,” said Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of CRC.
Data from the Save the Children revealed that 41 percent of the 14 million affected by super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) are children.
Psychological effects on children
Ruiz added: “Seeing that everything dear to them – their house, their school, their friends’ and neighbors’ houses – were all swept away by the typhoon had a great impact on children.”
Ruiz said children in Palo, Leyte where they conducted a psychosocial activity, manifested intense fear during and after the typhoon. “Children shared that they heard the whistle of the wind and saw their roof, their cows and other farm animals, and their houses being taken away by the strong winds.”
“They feared for the lives of their friends and classmates,” Ruiz added.
Ruiz said the manifestations of trauma among children include: recurring nightmares, sleep problems (sleeping too much or having difficulties sleeping), loss of appetite or compulsive eating, changes in energy level (either feels tired all the time when before, he or she was highly energetic, or suddenly active when previously quiet), poor concentration, feelings of guilt for being alive, mood changes, easily irritable or gets angry, easily scared or worrisome. Many of these manifestations, according to Ruiz, were present in children who survived the typhoon.
“Although the time allotted for the psychosocial processing was limited, we tried to help them identify their strengths and vulnerabilities. The trauma that the children experienced during the typhoon were made even worse because their families have been struggling to survive, especially since they lost their livelihood,” said Ruiz.
Jessica Darantinao, convener of People Surge said children in the municipality of Carigara, Leyte are suffering from hunger. “The government started to deliver relief goods four days after the typhoon,” she said.
“We just harvested the fruits of the tumbled banana trees in our yard even if it was not yet ripe. We cooked the saba banana and put sugar so somehow it tasted better.”
“Adults could stand hunger for days but not the children. When there was no more food left, the children cried because of hunger,” said Darantinao who got emotional.
Darantinao added: “People in Eastern Visayas are already poor even before the typhoon. We could hardly find food to eat everyday even before typhoon Yolanda came.” She said that before the typhoon, an average family earned a meager P43 ($0.96) per day and those who were able to land jobs in factories earned P110 ($2.45) per day. “Some leave the province to work in nearby cities or in Manila. Children are even forced to work to help augment the income of the parents.”
The latest report from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region in the Philippines. Thirty seven percent of its population or an estimated 4.2 million people are living below the poverty line.
“Eastern Visayas also has the highest percentage of undernourished children, affecting 20-30 percent, and malnourished children, affecting 60-70 percent,” Darantinao added.
Darantinao said the most effective way to help them recover from the devastation brought about by typhoon Yolanda is to help them restore their livelihood. Darantinao said 69.5 percent of the population in Eastern Visayas is from the agriculture and fisheries sector. People Surge’s data show that the damage on agriculture in Eastern Visayas has reached P65 billion ($1.449 billion).
“The typhoon has greatly damaged coconut trees and other crops, as well as fishing boats. She said the government estimate of the damage on agriculture in the region is conservative, pegged at P31 billion ($691 million) as of January.
That is why, Darantinao said, some of the survivors under the People Surge are here in Manila to demand to that the government addresses their immediate needs. She said that among their demands are for the distribution of P40,000 ($891) cash relief to every family affected by the typhoon and continuous distribution of relief goods until they are able to get back to their normal lives.
Kharlo Manano, secretary general of Salinlahi said the dismal conditions of women and children after the disaster make them vulnerable to sex trafficking. According to Manano, children as young as 10 years old are made to perform sexual acts with customers for a meager amount of P20 ($.45).
“And this could not have happened if only the government acted immediately after the disaster,” said Manano.
A report released by World Vision, Unicef, Save the Children and Plan International, entitled “After Yolanda: what children need, think and recommend” showed that children want to immediately return to school.
The said report documented the findings of consultations conducted with 124 children and young people affected by typhoon Yolanda. “The consultations were conducted in the hard-hit areas of Capiz, Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte and East and West Samar, and were aimed at seeking the views of children on the humanitarian situation, to find out what their priorities are and ask for suggestions to improve the responses to the disaster.”
According to the report, the priorities identified by children and young people are rebuilding homes, restoring electricity and returning to school.
According to the report, all the children and young people who participated in the consultations spoke about the importance of education. “Most children have already resumed schooling, either in Temporary Learning Centers set up by local authorities with the support of international agencies or in schools that were not damaged extensively by the typhoon. In some places, including North Cebu and Iloilo, classes are being held in the morning and cleaning and repairs of school buildings are taking place in the afternoon. Children in Iloilo said that they do not think a half day of classes is enough because school is the place where they normally spend most of their play time. However, in areas of West and East Samar where consultations were held, children reported that their classes have not yet started,” the report read.
The Department of Education (DepEd) said 17,620 classrooms in the Visayas region and Palawan needed to be replaced and repaired.
Manano said getting back to school helps children cope. “The government did not even immediately initiate rebuilding of schools, it was the international and national non-government organizations that responded to this particular need of the children.”
NGOs taking the lead in disaster response
Manano criticized the government’s delayed disaster response, especially to the needs of children. “We should take note that national and international NGOs have initiated immediate disaster response to the affected areas in Eastern Visayas when it should be the government – the country’s primary duty bearer.
Save the Children, for one, immediately set up “child center facilities” in areas in Eastern Visayas since last year.
Child Fund’s child protection officer Allan Nunez said they set up child center spaces during the first three months right after the typhoon. They also provided psychosocial interventions. They are also working closely with the Unicef and Save the Children in addressing the nutrition needs, protection and education of children in 40 heavily-damaged municipalities.
“The government should adhere to the demands of the victims, especially to the needs of children. The NGOs are only here to support,” said Karl Mark Labagala, project officer of Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia (Arcsea).
Ruiz pointed out that children have their own characteristics, capacities and skills to help them cope with and overcome their trauma. External factors such as the family or the support system are also important. “It is important to note that these children need help to cope and recover from the devastation brought by the disaster.”