Jay Labra / AP
By Erwin M. MascariÃ±as and Rhea Mogul, CNN
Usually Jay Lacia wakes up at midnight on Christmas Day to start the festivities, but this year all he wanted was enough food to eat.
“We’ve always celebrated Christmas, but right now it’s too hard,” said the father of a 27-year-old, as he sat among the rubble of the typhoon Surigao town, at the northeastern tip of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Broken wood, pieces of metal and plastic trash line the shore, where an exhausted stray dog ââsleeps. The stench of garbage and dead fish engulfed the air.
More than a week later Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – hit in the Philippines, Lacia gave up trying to recover what remains of her house. There is no longer a single house in his village on the neighboring island of Dinagat.
âEverything was gone, including my house,â Lacia said. “The roof and all the wood we built was gone.”
No one expected Rai’s anger to run wild when he hit the archipelago December 16. It is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, killing nearly 400 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The Philippines experiences several typhoons a year, but the climate crisis has made storms more unpredictable and extreme, while leaving the country’s poorest most vulnerable.
Families like Lacia have lost everything. And now they are faced with the almost impossible task of rebuilding their homes without enough food to eat or water to drink.
“We thought we were safe because we had tied up our house. We thought that was enough to keep it from collapsing,” he said. “We put a weight on our roof to keep it from blowing off. Unfortunately, that was not enough.”
Nearly 4 million people in more than 400 cities were affected by Typhoon Rai, according to the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
More than half a million people remained displaced during Christmas, one of the most important holidays in the predominantly Catholic nation.
“Families have nothing,” said Jerome Balinton, humanitarian officer for Save the Children. “Bright Christmas lights and music are replaced by dirty, wet evacuation centers. Their only wish this Christmas is to survive.”
Jovelyn Paloma Sayson, 35, from Surigao City was evacuated to her community parish church before Rai struck. His fragile hut made of wood, plastic and metal could not withstand the powerful gusts of the storm.
âThe roofs of every house were flying everywhere,â the mother of seven said as she sat amid the ruins of her home. “Our house was the first to collapse. First the roof came off. Then the foundation collapsed. After my house was destroyed, my mother’s house collapsed.”
All of the family’s food was destroyed by the floods. Their stock of rice – a staple food for the Southeast Asian country – floated in the muddy water next to broken pieces of wood. The clothes of Sayson’s children are ruined by the rain and his furniture is shattered.
Sayson’s kitchen appliances were stolen in the process. She can’t afford to rebuild from scratch, she said.
âWe need the money to rebuild our house,â she said. “We don’t dream of having a mansion. All we want is to have our own house to live in so our children are safe.”
Despite the trauma, her family still came together to celebrate the holiday.
âWe had nothing to eat,â Sayson said. “Someone gave us sliced ââbread and canned goods. Even though we are poor, we have a party every Christmas.”
Prolonged displacement and suffering
More than 1,000 temporary shelters have been set up to accommodate those whose houses have collapsed, according to the NDRRMC.
For many displaced families, the trauma and suffering are unbearable.
Alvin Dumduma, project manager in the Philippines for the humanitarian group Humanity and Inclusion, said it was âexhaustingâ for families trying to rebuild their homes âhungry and thirstyâ.
Cramped in unsanitary evacuation centers with no running water, he worries about the potential spread of disease, including Covid-19.
“The conditions in the evacuation centers are far from ideal. It is not hygienic. Thousands of people sleep under one roof without drinking water,” he added. “The kids don’t go to school. There’s no electricity either. They’ll be stuck like this for a long time.”
Dumduma said the disaster had also devastated the livelihoods of these families.
âMany are from fishing or farming communities whose boats and land have been destroyed,â he said. “They will have a hard time rebuilding their business.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the government will raise funds for the rehabilitation and recovery of areas ravaged by typhoons. The United Nations has also pledged more than $ 100 million in aid.
But Dumduma said much more needs to change at the government level to avoid such devastation from future storms.
“The chaos has happened because the government was not prepared. They need to step up their disaster response program,” he said. “We need more training, more preparation and more early action.”
CNN reached out to NDRRMC for comment, but did not receive a response until the post.
Effects of the climate crisis
Located along the typhoon belt in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines regularly experiences severe storms, but the climate crisis has made these events more extreme and unpredictable.
As the climate crisis worsens, cyclones become increasingly intense and destructive. Rai quickly went from the equivalent of a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 storm in just 24 hours, with winds reaching 260 kilometers (160 miles) per hour.
And the country was not prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.
Kairos Dela Cruz, deputy director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said developing countries are reaching their capacity limit to cope with natural disasters on their own and those living in low-lying coastal areas will soon lose their homes. because of the rising sea levels.
A study published in november Researchers at the Shenzhen Institute of Meteorological Innovation and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have found that typhoons in Asia may have doubled their destructive power by the turn of the century. They already last between two and nine hours longer, and travel an average of 100 kilometers (62 miles) further inland than they did four decades ago.
The climate crisis is also exposing systemic problems in the Philippines, said Dela Cruz.
“We need more resources to help us and (we should) play a bigger role internationally to push for more climate finance,” he said.
According to Dela Cruz, a storm the size of Rai in December is unusual for the Philippines, which typically experiences typhoons from June to September.
For Alita Sapid, 64, the effects of the climate crisis are clearly visible.
âWe’ve had typhoons before, but it was extremely strong,â she said of Rai. Sapid stayed at his home in Surigao with her husband, daughter and four grandchildren when the typhoon hit, but as the water seeped in, they decided it was time to evacuate.
“I told my husband to get out of here because we risk dying here,” she said. “My grandchildren had to crawl on the roads because the wind was so strong.”
The roof of Sapid’s house is completely destroyed. With nowhere to go and with no money at the moment, the family has no choice but to sleep in their exposed home – all that’s left of it.
âIn addition to thinking about what we would prioritize in the repair, we are also thinking about how we can get our food,â she said.
“We haven’t received any help yet. We’re just waiting for someone to help us.”
Lacia, from the island of Dinagat, will move with his wife and child to Surigao. It’s safer there, he says.
“My neighbors are no longer (in Dinagat). Most of them have left because there is nothing left in our neighborhood,” he said.
All that remains in his name are matches, a box of rice, dried fish and canned food.
âIn my family, we really need help to be able to pick ourselves up and find our livelihood,â said Lacia.
âOdette was a really great typhoon,â he said. “We lost our house, damaged by the force of the wind brought by the storm. We did everything, but it still wasn’t enough.”
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