Philippines: Choppers And Boats Brought In To Reach Hungry

Published on 07 October 2009

Philippines Country Director Stephen Anderson hands out a food package to stranded residents of Santa Cruz Laguna, a flooded town south of Manila.

(Copyright: WFP/Veejay Villafranca)

In the face of mounting logistical challenges, WFP has brought in helicopters and inflatable boats to provide food assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims of the two major tropical storms that recently ravaged the Philippines.

MANILIA -- The town of Santa Cruz Laguna, south of Manila, was one of the worst hit by the recent flooding. A WFP boat reached it on Sunday, bringing the first food assistance since the typhoon hit on September 26. WFP’s Amy Horton was on the boat and sent the eyewitness account you see below.

Many areas of the Philippines are still inaccessible because of the widespread flooding and taking food to them by truck is not yet an option.

“Without the new boats and choppers, the massive government-led relief effort would not be able to reach people who are really desperate, sometimes neck-deep in water,” said Stephen Anderson, WFP Country Director in the Philippines. Read news release

"The swollen river became a flooded street"

by Amy Horton

Once the clothing and food – including WFP rice – were loaded onto the motorised canoe, we clambered aboard and sat on top of the soon-to-be-distributed aid packages (I'm the woman with the blonde hair you can see in the photo on the left).

Moving down the swollen river, we looked at the partially submerged houses on either side. People wading through the streets off the river proper or seeing us from the top floors of their homes waved as we went by.

Without us noticing, the river – our route – became a flooded street. We floated through the town, past houses with people on rooftops or the highest accessible parts of their homes.  As distributions from the canoe began, a cute toddler no more than three years old yelled out from a rooftop in Tagalog: “big brother, please give to me”.

The boat ride was both a heart-warming and a heart-breaking experience. Young and old forced their way through the chest-high water towards us, arms extended, pleading for our packets of food and clothing.

Just above water line

We stopped at one house, where an elderly man squatted just above the water line on a ladder under a corrugated roof. He told us he was there alone. His family had fled to the relative safety of an evacuation centre.

In other homes, there were whole families. At one, a woman held her child close, combing his hair.  At another, the desperate expression on the face of an elderly woman standing on the balcony of what had been a fancy house brought tears to my eyes. Food and clothes were handed up to her, and for an instant she brightened.

Handing out packages

All around, there was desperate need. We handed packages to people in the water and tossed them to others on rooftops. When the supplies ran out, and we explained that there was nothing left to give, resilient Filipinos we couldn’t help simply smiled and thanked us for coming. Fortunately, there was another aid boat behind us.

The dedicated local relief teams will continue distributions for as long as there is need. With no sign of the waters subsiding – in fact they are rising because of the continuing rains and the precautionary opening of a dam upstream – the teams are well aware that they have many weeks, perhaps months, of hard work ahead.

Read more about WFP's response in the Philippines:

 

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about the author

Amy Horton

Deputy Chief, Emergency Preparedness and Response

Amy Horton is Deputy Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch at WFP's Rome headquarters. She has led WFP teams in several emergencies, including in Darfur.