A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Urgent call comes at the six month mark since Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, hit the Philippines, affecting the lives of 14 million people
The call urges the government to include fast-tracking coconut trees clearing, restoring destroyed coral reefs and seabeds, and investing in small-scale aquaculture and seaweed farming. It also calls for the construction of safe evacuation centres and contingency plans ahead of the next typhoon season. Barely a month before the next typhoon season starts, 40 per cent of disaster-affected households still live in makeshift shelters, and in Eastern Samar only 8 per cent of evacuation centres are functional.
A total of 600 leaders of farmers and fisher groups from across Leyte, supported by NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NFR), Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) and international aid organization Oxfam, welcomed the government’s 90-day target of clearing 390,000 trees. However, this represents only 3 per cent of the 13 million totally damaged trees that need to be cleared in the Eastern Visayas alone.
Farmers in crisis
Maria Mendoza, Executive Director of FTA, said: “Farmers are in crisis. Food distributions have stopped, cash support is slowing down, and yet coconut farmers have no way of earning money to support their families. Many now face the threat of rhinoceros beetle infestations that can decimate remaining coconut trees and farmlands, jeopardizing income opportunities. The more we delay in clearing the farms, the more time it will take to plant quick-growing crops and secure immediate food and income.”
Fisher men and women who have had their boats repaired have gone back to sea, only to return with just two kilos of catch after fishing for almost half a day, compared to catches of five kilos in two hours pre-Haiyan. The Leyte Gulf was already over-fished but the typhoon has destroyed marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds and coral reefs which have resulted in a further decline in fish stocks.
Fishing stocks destroyed
“We urge the government to immediately conduct comprehensive coastal and marine resource assessments to ascertain the extent of damage, and to determine appropriate measures for rehabilitation,” said Al Bernarte, program coordinator of NFR.
Fishing communities who live along the coasts are also anxious about plans of government to relocate them away from the sea.
Casimero Villas, chairperson of the San Joaquin-Cogon Fisher men and women Association (SACOFA), of Palo, Leyte said: “People from the government’s social welfare department told us that we need to leave our homes by the sea because we’re in a hazard zone, yet they cannot explain the criteria of what a hazard zone is. The sad part is, the government does not seem to understand why we cannot be relocated very far away from the sea. The answer is that this is where we get our income.”
Oxfam is there
Oxfam has assisted over 730,000 people with immediate water, sanitation and hygiene materials, cash grants and cash for work programs, rice seeds, boat building and seaweed farming initiatives, and the provision of mosquito nets, mother and newborn kits and emergency shelter materials.
Leo Roozendaal, Oxfam’s Asia Deputy Regional Director, said: “The reality facing many poor people is that they are going to build back worse – not better. The initial emergency response delivered timely emergency relief, but we cannot rest on this good work. The government is talking about the difficult issues that need to be tackled, such as relocation and alternative ways to earn income whilst fishing and coconut industries recover, but there is not enough action.
“Farmers and fisher men and women urgently need support for the next phase of recovery. Strong leadership is needed at all levels to speed up the recovery programs and help the poorest people get back on their feet.”
Notes to editors
Photos, blogs and testimonials are available: http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=16038&k=36f8db4cf3
Oxfam has been operation in the Philippines since 1978. It is responding to the typhoon Haiyan disaster in Leyte, Eastern Samar and Cebu provinces and has supported 650,000 people. Oxfam has provided clean drinking water and sanitation products and facilities, as well as emergency food security and shelter assistance. It is also supporting poor families to make a living through cash for work initiatives such as debris and coconut tree clearing, rice seed distributions and fishing boat repairs and rebuilding.
For interviews, please contact Claire Seaward, Oxfam Humanitarian Campaign Manager, +63 906 297 8659