By Ernesto Regis Jr.
Many of us will be fortunate enough to celebrate this Holiday Season with our close friends and family members. Children will receive Christmas presents, many will gather for a huge feast of turkey, dressing and desserts, while some of us will ring in the New Year with champagne and resolutions we’ll try to keep.
This year, for the people of MacArthur, Leyte, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations will not come. As the world is already aware, on November 8, super typhoon Haiyan barreled through the Philippines, affecting the island of Leyte, where the town of MacArthur was one of many that were affected by its destructive wrath. Many homes and livelihoods were disrupted to the point where everything that once existed is either completely gone, or reduced to rubble. Not only are private residences affected, but infrastructure and municipal services (including postal and emergency response agencies) are also crippled. Schools have been destroyed, and roads are blocked with debris, leaving the region to rebuild from scratch, leaving remote villages the last to receive assistance.
A month and a half after the super typhoon’s destruction, people are still recovering from the shock and devastation. This slow process makes plans to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s unfathomable. When a natural disaster affects a large area and population, although a certain level of chaos can be expected in the early stages, it can be assumed that relief efforts would be as fair and efficient as possible. In MacArthur, it has been nothing but fair and efficient. To this day, we still hear people crying for help. Relief has been distributed only five times to MacArthur since it arrived two weeks after the typhoon. Aid is received in the form of a weekly rations kit to sustain a family until the next delivery. One hoping to bring something home to survive can expect to receive two kilos of rice instead of 10, four canned goods instead of 12, and to have their medicines stolen and sold on the black market. To exacerbate this, villagers from remoter areas within the municipality of MacArthur have to walk for miles to pick up their aid due to inflated gas prices.
There are only a few villages that receive direct aid drop-off, yet for many alternate routes to get to the drop centers are required because direct roads are still blocked. Only a month after the typhoon, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) announced that aid would be cut back towards the end of December, stating that families with special needs and the elderly would be eligible for additional “aid” delivered at certain drop centers. Many feel two months is not enough time to recuperate and are frustrated at the premature removal of government assistance.
From Typhoon Haiyan to today, the town of MacArthur has been without electricity, thereby relying on one of the most environmental friendly sources of energy to function: the sun. Solar light kits are in high demand and are selling at inflated costs. Few can afford them and those who do can only get one per household. Other sources of light, like candles and gas, are precious commodities. Slow clean up of the debris and decay, combined with stagnant pools of water on the side of the road, have contributed to the rise of mosquito-borne diseases. Dengue fever has become prevalent and medicine is essential to families who have fallen ill with it. Many schools are still without roofs, while a few in the smaller villages have to work in open-air rooms.
Now that the Christmas holiday season is here, lets think about the families that are still waiting for theirs. We know what it is like to be surrounded by loved ones and celebration, but for the people of MacArthur, Leyte, they have very little to celebrate. We could all give them hope, spirit, and dignity to start all over again. Please visit our Aid for Typhoon Haiyan Victims. Thank you/madamo nga salamat.