Tension and trauma reported rising in post-typhoon Philippines

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With aid trickling in to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, we're receiving reports from our 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 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.

As of today it is estimated that the typhoon has displaced over 800,000 people. Those whose homes were located along the coast have been at risk of further flooding from the new storm that 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.

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-centered system for gender-based violence.

The current situation is putting people already vulnerable at particular risk. Women and children are begging on the streets for donations, exposing themselves to risk of 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 is looking at distributing solar 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 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 first UNHCR airlift is scheduled for tomorrow from Dubai to Cebu. We have also deployed an emergency team to the Philippines including protection specialists. We are expecting further aid flights to be underway later this week.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Manila, Marie Michelle Liquigan on mobile +639189208765
  • In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 5579106
  • Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106