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'A little aid would help': Typhoon Odette survivors beg for food

By Ron Lopez / AFP Published Dec 23, 2021 5:25 pm

Jennifer Vetonio stands on a road in Surigao City begging for money and food from passing drivers. A week after Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) destroyed her house, she has not received a scrap of government aid.

Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless after Odette cut a swathe through the vast archipelago last Dec. 16, knocking out power across entire islands and leaving desperate survivors pleading for help.

"We don't have food, my baby has no milk or diapers," said Vetonio, 23, in the devastated city of Surigao, on the northern tip of Mindanao island. 

"I hope the government will help us -- even a little aid would help us recover," she said, holding a plastic bottle with the top cut off that she uses to collect alms from motorists.  

Humanitarian needs and gaps are high across all sectors and the humanitarian situation may further deteriorate.

The military, coast guard and humanitarian organisations have ramped up efforts to get food, drinking water and temporary shelter to the hardest-hit islands.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a state of calamity in the typhoon-affected areas, where at least 375 people were killed, freeing up funds for relief efforts and giving local officials power to control prices.

But the scale of the destruction, lack of mobile phone signal or internet in many areas, and depleted government coffers after the COVID-19 response were hampering efforts to distribute aid. 

Jennifer Vetonio holding a recycled water bottle begs for money and food from passing drivers along a road in Surigao City days after super Typhoon Odette devastated the province. 

. Ferdinandh CABRERA / AFP

The damage caused by Odette has been likened to Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in 2013. 

Siargao, Dinagat, Mindanao and Bohol islands are among the most devastated by the latest storm, which tore off roofs, shredded wooden buildings, felled concrete power poles and uprooted trees. 

"So many houses were destroyed," Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon told AFP.

"Destruction is destruction. It's just the cycle of poverty all over again." 

'Back to square one'
Odette hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season: most cyclones develop between July and October.

Anna Cloren from the state weather forecaster said the storm intensified faster than expected, and initial data showed it had dumped more rain than Yolanda. 

Scientists have long warned that typhoons are strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.

The Philippines -- ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change -- is hit by an average of 20 storms every year.

Young boys beg for money and food from passing drivers along a road in Surigao City, Surigao del Norte province on Dec. 23, 2021, days after super Typhoon Rai devastated the province. Ferdinandh CABRERA / AFP

In 2013, Yolanda was the strongest storm ever to have made landfall, leaving over 7,300 people dead or missing. 

The death toll from Odette is not expected to get anywhere close to that number.

More than 500,000 people were still in evacuation centers or sheltering with relatives, the national disaster agency said Dec. 23

Thousands of acers of crops have been wiped out, fishing communities devastated and tourism operators left with no livelihood.

Long queues of people waiting to refill empty water drums or fill up motorbike fuel tanks have been seen across the affected regions. 

"Humanitarian needs and gaps are high across all sectors and the humanitarian situation may further deteriorate if these needs are not addressed immediately," the United Nations' humanitarian office warned.

"On the first day we got maybe a kilo of rice each," said Maria Consumo, 41, who is six months pregnant and begging for handouts on the side of a road near Surigao City. 

"We think they gave priority to Siargao," she said, referring to the popular tourist destination where Odette made landfall packing wind speeds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour.  

Marites Sotis, 53, said most of her family's coconut trees were knocked down by the storm and it would take years to grow more.

"We're back to square one," she said.