Poor communities in Philippines worst-hit by floods
The weather bureau says over a month's worth of rain fell on Manila in two days.
Evacuation centres in and around Manila have been overwhelmed, as the waters displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
Slum-dwellers in areas along rivers and canals like Marikina are worst-hit.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speakers: Reihana Mohideen, chairwoman of Philippine non-government organisation, Transform Asia
MOHIDEEN: We've been distributing supplies as soon as we could get out, so it's been the last couple of days, at least. We're basically distributing things that people can eat as soon as they receive it, so that there isn't alot of cooking and preparation involved - dry biscuits, noodles, instant noodles, water, and porridge, that's ready to eat - readymade porridge, called 'lugaw', a rice porridge. Also, there's a need for medical assistance because there's a health alert in metro Manila because of the impact of the floods.
LAM: And with over a million people displaced in greater Manila alone, I imagine there must be many people missing out?
MOHIDEEN: Yes, yesterday, one of the places that I visited - a part of metro Manila - called Marikina, one of the worst-affected areas because there's a big river which regularly overflows. We went to one of the poor communities there, and we were supposed to go to a school, an evacuation centre housing one-thousand families - we managed to get there just after lunch. And people were really upset, we couldn't really get to the evacuation centre because people were saying, "Where have you been? We haven't had anything to eat since last night." And some of the men in the community started rocking our vehicle, so we just stopped and distributed food on the spot. And because we go in with local community leaders who're well-respected, we had to basically stop and distribute the relief and we never got to the evacuation centre.
LAM: And of course, the local authorities are also dealing with increasing numbers of displaced people, including huge numbers turning up at evacuation centres? What can you tell us about that?
MOHIDEEN: On tv, you've got the President (Aquino) visiting your model evacuation centre, which all the agencies have accessed, it's like your 'model' (centre) you've got tv crews filming it, and so on. But some of the evacuation centres that we're going to are in some of the most deprived communities. The one that I visited this morning, which is in a place called Tai-Tai, critical area, there were nineteen families to a class room.
LAM: Nineteen families to a class room?
MOHIDEEN: Nineteen families to a class room and they were mainly women with babies, but they had allocated nineteen families to a class room, according to the local organisers there. And on our way there, we saw many people had just camped outside, they weren't going to these evacuation centres, and I can understand it. If I had the option of going to an evacuation centre with nineteen families to a class room, or camp outside, I would camp outside!
A disaster on this scale is hard for any third world government to cope with, but the response really is not good enough. It's inadequate. It's really inadequate. For example, there are water pumping stations in the area that I went to - we came across three water pumping stations. They pump out 15-thousand litres of water a day, and they were completely overwhelmed. They did not have the capacity to deal with the amount of water.
What we are seeing is not just the face of evacuation, we're seeing the face of poverty. These are poor people in these centres. You're not coming across the rich, you're coming across the middle class. You're really coming across the poor in these centres. The devastation that you travel through to get to these centres of flooded huts - this is the face of poverty. The fact that housing is inadequate. The fact that there're no proper drainage systems. The fact that roads get flooded so quickly, and the fact that you don't have water catchment to catch and store this water. The fact that there's inadequate power supply.
LAM: It seems to me it's not a problem that the Philippine government can fix overnight. But the Caribbean nation of Cuba, poor as it is, has been identified as having the best disaster response practice by the United Nations. What do you think they're doing right, that the Philippines might learn from?
MOHIDEEN: You know, there're the structural and physical aspects of disaster perparedness - not just response but preparedness prior to the disaster. In Cuba you have almost a hundred percent electrification (sic), you've got good road access, evacuation centres that are properly set up with health professionals, where every centre has doctors and nurses, because they have this decentralised system of health care. So you have these physical and structural aspects, but what the UN also points to, the ISDR, which is the UN agency that deals with the disasters, they say that Cuba has created a 'Culture of Safety' through successful education and awareness campaigns. School children are trained. There is this understanding and awareness and education, which goes with the high literacy level, by the way. There's almost a hundred percent literacy level in Cuba, so people can actually read and understand the information.