CRS helps rural Filipinos made homeless by storm 6 months ago
By Rick DelVecchio

.- Catholic Relief Services needs help funding temporary shelters for 1,500 Filipino families who lost their homes in Tropical Storm Washi, which struck Mindanao last Dec. 16-17, CRS’ Philippines country representative Joe Curry told Catholic San Francisco.

He said nearly 3,000 people displaced by the storm are still living in camps and in public buildings.

CRS has played a major part in aid relief to storm victims and is the only aid organization providing temporary shelters, said Curry, who was in the Bay Area June 18.

Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco have been among the most generous contributors to the typhoon relief effort, he said. In the initial response, donations from the archdiocese were $51,000 out of $143,000 from the West Coast and $250,000 in total U.S. contributions.

Mindanao is not typically in the path of Pacific storms and was largely unprepared when Washi – known locally as Typhoon Sendong – struck in the middle of the night with 18 inches of rain. The storm killed at least 1,250 people and initially displaced 80,000 – 8,000 permanently.

The cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan were decimated, with neighborhoods swept away in a few hours, CRS said. Flooding destroyed 13,585 homes and partially damaged another 37,559.

“With a disaster this size it can take a long time to move people into permanent houses – up to two years – but what do people do from now up until the time they have a permanent house?’ Curry asked.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap with a transitional shelter, a low-cost housing unit.”

CRS has built 850 units so far at a cost of $400 each and plans another 1,000.

A third of children undernourished

CRS’ ongoing work in the Philippines focuses on Mindanao, the Philippines’ second largest island. In an economy based on five-acre farms, those who do not own try to earn $3 or $4 a day as migrant laborers.

The average grower earns $450 a year.

“When you add up the cost of food, school fees and medical expenses, it’s a life of poverty and it’s a matter of getting by,” said Curry, who has been CRS’ country representative for two-and-a-half years.

A third of Mindanao children have stunted growth because they are undernourished.

Farmers’ income suffers from lack of access to credit and to markets. CRS is helping farmers organize to reach markets directly rather than through traders. The agency also is training growers to boost productivity on coffee, cocoa and rice crops.

Civil unrest is another threat in Mindanao, and an outbreak of violence can cost growers valuable time. CRS is working on peace building efforts aimed at encouraging local governments to distribute resources more equitably.

“We work a lot with the church, through diocesan priests, and we also work a lot with local nonprofits,” Curry said.

“Part of the problem in Mindanao is that local governments are monopolized by people involved in the conflict and their interest in being transparent and sharing resources is not the same as those in the community. What we’re trying to do is bridge between our partners and these local governments and try to improve the quality of governance and make it more transparent.”

Posted with permission from Catholic San Francisco. The official newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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