A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines
Typhoon Haiyan: The Vulnerability of Poverty
Typhoon Yolanda, international name Haiyan, remains very present in our lives as each day the death toll rises and institutions that were once able to offer help are forced to close. As of Sunday, November 24, the death toll had risen to 5,235 with 1,613 still missing and 23,501 under treatment for wounds, infections, illness and other injuries related to the typhoon.
The Search and Rescue Team sent from Silliman University on November 14 to help in the locating of missing persons returned to Silliman University able to report to the students who had lived in the darkness of not knowing about their families, that their family members were alive. But while the report was a blessing to our affected students, the reality of what they saw was horrific.
The reality is the sad awakening that poverty is vulnerability. The question has been raised many times about why so many people and families living in the 555,514 homes that were totally destroyed, many of whom are now counted among the dead, did not evacuate. The answer is poverty. These houses are simple nipa, bamboo houses with no metal locks or grills on the window to protect the very few special items inside. These families had worked years to pay off or may still be paying for the one television set or the coveted stove oven in the home. To leave the home could mean the possibility of losing everything, not from the storm but from a break-in robbery. The loss would be so much to these families and would be devastating. Many survivors have been quoted as saying they did not want to leave their homes unprotected, so they stayed. This is the vulnerability of poverty.
This past week Bethany Hospital, set up by Presbyterian Mission in 1918, which has served Tacloban City and the region with healing for 95 years, had to temporarily close. This hospital, which had lost most of its equipment and had suffered so much damage, was not a purely profit institution and now can no longer maintain the salaries of employees. It was left with no option but to close for a period of rehabilitation.
The glimpse of hope is that a French team of medical practitioners from “Doctors Without Borders” and Filipino volunteers are set up and functioning in the parking area of Bethany Hospital with tents and are responding to the flow of patients, but this is not a sustainable solution over time. This is the vulnerability of poverty.
Silliman University and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) are continuing in this immediate stage of responding with still the priority of saving lives with relief in food, water, clothing and medical supplies. Silliman Water Ministry, a project to provide clean drinking water to communities in need, is presently constructing portable mobile clean water filtration systems and will send the first unit this week to filter the well water of Bethany Hospital, where larger and larger crowds are gathering for treatment.
The prediction is that it will be months before we can all move from the relief stage to the rehabilitation stage, which will be creating the capacity for the relief agencies on the ground to slowly withdraw and local institutions take on the responsibility of health and livelihood. People are finding their ways to survive, but it is fragile and desperate and often dependent on outside institutions and organizations.
Silliman University and the UCCP are already preparing for support to rehabilitation by lending vehicles and materials for reconstruction and sharing human resources with engineering, psychosocial, medical, and development skills. The road to recovery will be sure, but long and winding. Your prayers and support will continue to be our strength.
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, pp. 56-57
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