After the passage of Typhoon Bopha, Ciony Ayo-Eduarte (in yellow shirt), the director of operations in the Philippines for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, distributes emergency food supplies to people displaced by the storm in Iligan, on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao. Assisting her is Minnie Anne Calub (center), the emergency coordinator for the National Council of Churches of the Philippines. Both UMCOR and the NCCP are members of the ACT Alliance.
Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

By David Tereshchuk*

December 10, 2012—December once again has brought a typhoon’s terrible trail of death and destruction to the Philippines.

More than 600 people died and at least 800 more remain missing after Typhoon Bopha (also known locally as Pablo), struck the Philippines last week. The category 5 storm cut a swath of devastation mainly across the southern island of Mindanao. It forced some 300,000 people to flee to evacuation centers and other temporary shelters

In a pattern all too familiar to Filipinos, extra-high winds—including gusts of about 130 miles per hour—and torrential rains washed away homes, ripped off rooftops, and provoked landslides, mudslides, and extensive flooding, including flash floods, in many communities. The provinces of Compostela and Davao Oriental were the hardest hit.

Typhoon Bopha struck Mindanao barely one year after another deadly storm—Typhoon Sendong (Washi)—pummeled the same area, leaving 1,500 people dead.

UMCOR Philippines—the national field office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)—has long dedicated itself to anticipating communities’ needs in this typhoon-prone archipelago, and is already at work responding to Bopha.

The office has considerable experience in typhoon relief and participates fully in the church-based ACT Alliance (which in the Philippines also includes Lutheran World Relief, Christian Aid, the National Council of Churches, and the recently-formed ACT Philippines Forum). The Alliance’s training sessions for “total ACT response” to emergencies, which UMCOR Philippines Director Ciony Eduarte serves as facilitator, yet again are being tested in practice to the maximum.

Eduarte reports that she reached Iligan City on Mindanao the day after the typhoon struck. UMCOR is helping to direct immediate relief work in that industrialized city’s hard-hit local districts of Tambacan, Mahayahay and San Roque, working alongside local partners BALSA Mindanao, a Mindanao-wide church network, and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines. They are distributing food packages to residents of these communities, which experienced massive flooding.

The task since then has been—in the face of badly disrupted communications and transportation networks, including many bridges and roads that have been washed out or rendered impassable—to get accurate reports from the affected areas and assess needs, working along with the assessment efforts of the Government of the Philippines and other agencies.

“UMCOR, in communication with our local church workers, will assess how we can respond effectively,” said Eduarte.  “Our trained volunteers, who will be assisted by partner GlobalMedic in providing potable drinking water, are ready to be deployed.”

A disturbing element of Typhoon Bopha’s impact is that eastern parts of Mindanao, where the agricultural stretches of Compostela Province and both Northern and Eastern Davao provinces are located, in the past generally have been spared the worst effects of typhoons—but not this time. Global climate change may be extending the already vulnerable areas of Mindanao.

Read Ciony Eduarte’s reflection, written as the storm approached. And please give to Philippines Emergency, UMCOR Advance #240235 and bring relief to the typhoon-battered communities of Mindanao and elsewhere.

*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor Ciony Eduarte contributed to this report.

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