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.