Reports of growing tension and trauma among typhoon survivors in the Philippines

News Stories, 12 November 2013

© REUTERS/E.De Castro
This boy was injured by flying debris from Typhoon Haiyan as it swept over his family's home in Tacloban. Haiyan is one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.

MANILA, Philippines, November 12 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday that as aid trickles in to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, UNHCR has been receiving reports from government partners and others of growing tension and trauma on the ground, especially among vulnerable women and children.

UNHCR is co-leading the protection cluster with the government's Department of Social Welfare and Development under the inter-agency emergency response.

"Our staff have been communicating with local authorities and other protection partners in the nine affected regions to assess survivors' physical safety, access to basic services and humanitarian assistance. We have also been looking at protection of women, children and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the disabled and minority groups," a UNHCR spokesman said.

It is estimated that the typhoon has displaced more than 800,000 people. Those whose homes were located along the coast remain at risk of further flooding as a new storm has made landfall today. Some displaced people prefer to stay in their partially damaged homes rather than in the over 1,400 evacuation centres. Others have set up makeshift tents close to their homes.

The survivors urgently need food, clean water, medicines, clothing and plastic sheets. But damaged roads, bridges and uncleared debris are hampering humanitarian access, especially to remote areas. This is contributing to a breakdown in law and order as some desperate people loot shops for food and water. There are unconfirmed reports of people destroying bank teller machines and robbing relief supplies.

"With national and local capacity now severely impaired, protection activities are vital," said José Riera, Geneva-based senior advisor in UNHCR's Division of International Protection. "They also include reuniting family members, setting in place mechanisms to recover lost documents, supporting unaccompanied children and averting the exploitation and abuse of women," he added.

To help safe and fair distribution, aid delivery will need to be coordinated with the national government which is leading coordination in managing this crisis and through aid agencies. Traumatized survivors will need psychosocial counselling. More community outreach should be done to provide accurate information on protection issues. This will help to improve the monitoring of incidents, and establish a survivor-centred system for gender-based violence.

The current situation is putting the most vulnerable at significant risk. Women and children are begging on the streets for donations, exposing themselves to abuse and exploitation. With power lines still down, the lack of lighting has made women and children at home and in evacuation centres more vulnerable, especially at night.

UNHCR plans to distribute solar-powered lanterns to mitigate the risks of gender-based violence and enhance the protection of displaced families. We have also mobilized our in-country stocks of plastic sheets, blankets, clothing and other relief items for 1,400 families. These will be supplemented by airlifts of tents and aid supplies for 16,000 families in the coming days.

As the protection cluster co-lead, UNHCR's main goal is to assist the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other relevant authorities, such as the national Human Rights Commission, to establish a protection cluster mechanism in the typhoon-affected areas.

"Our staff are providing expertise and technical support to address protection issues, and will also assist the government to ensure that a system is in place for displaced populations to have access to civil documentation and essential services," the UNHCR spokesman said.

A first UNHCR airlift is scheduled for Wednesday from Dubai to Cebu, bringing tents and other non-food help. The refugee agency has also deployed an emergency team to the Philippines, including protection specialists. Further aid flights are expected later this week.

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Protection

The protection of millions of uprooted or stateless people is UNHCR's core mandate.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

An estimated 13 million people were affected when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8. Thousands were killed and about 3 million are believed to be displaced - some of them living in evacuation sites, others on the ruins of their former homes. Tacloban City in Leyte province was one of the hardest-hit areas. A week after the typhoon made landfall, large parts of its coast remain flattened and piles of debris still line the streets. Working with the Philippines government and UN and NGO partners, UNHCR is airlifting emergency supplies for thousands of survivors. The agency is delivering tents, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and other critical aid. It is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government, working to identify vulnerable people and ensuring that they have access to basic assistance and services. UNHCR has appealed for US$15 million to meet these critical needs. UNHCR is now present in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte province, as well as Guiuan in Eastern Samar province.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

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Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.