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A simple blanket brings hope to flood evacuees in the Philippines

Photo: Ruby Thursday More/Oxfam

Keith Bacongco, Oxfam Philippines

Flood-affected men and women in the Philippines had something to smile about thanks to Oxfam when they received malongs, an amazing traditional Muslim blanket that doubles as a wrap-around, water container and water purifier.

Displaced by tropical storm Sendong (international name Washi) two weeks ago, they belong to at least 7,000 homeless families now staying in evacuation centers across the city. Sendong released flashfloods that has claimed more than 1,500 lives and engulfed houses along river tributaries.

Catherine Ampo, a 29-year old mother of two from Isla Delta village, said she was happy to receive two malongs, which she can use to change clothes in. She no longer has to wait in a long queue to a lone toilet at their temporary shelter – a basketball court.

Her husband, Rey, who works at a public transport terminal directing passengers to vehicles, was also glad to have received the relief packs.

He said that although there is enough supply, they are not sure if the drinking water rationed to them is safe. Catherine shared that their one-year old son, Katerey, has diarrhoea and has yet to see a doctor or a health worker.

“It’s good to have these purifiers because we can be assured that the water is safe,” she said.

Before the distribution started, aid workers of the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), an alliance of local humanitarian organisations which Oxfam is working with to provide water and sanitation assistance to affected communities in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City, gave a quick orientation on to how to use the water purifiers.

Like Catherine, 32-year old Teresa Salud also expressed joy as she received her share of relief.

Upon receiving the items, she rushed to their spot in the middle of the basketball court and read the instructions on how to use the water purifiers.

Her family lost all their belongings during the floods. She will use the malong to wrap her one-month old baby Novemae in.

“All the things for my baby were washed away by the flood. We have a blanket but this malong is better. It will be her sleeping mat, too,” the mother of four said.

Her husband Necessario used to earn a living by driving a trisikad (a bicycle on which is strapped a metal carriage that seats 2 passengers). But that too was swept away by the flashfloods.

But they are grateful no one in her family got hurt or drowned.

“It was so hard to evacuate… [It was a good thing] my sisters carried the baby and our neighbors helped my other kids,” Salud recalled.

Tropical storm Sendong has affected at least 500,000 people in the Philippines. The worst hit is the region, Northern Mindanao, of which Cagayan de Oro is a key trading and commercial city. Poor people like Catherine and Teresa need food, water, hygiene kits, temporary shelters, latrines, etc. in the short term. For the long term, they need help building new homes on areas safe from natural hazards like landslides and river surges and livelihood programs that will enable them to support themselves.

Read more about Oxfam’s response to the Philippines floods

Keith Bacongco shoots and writes for Mindanews, an online news agency owned by Mindanaon journalists. He also contributes to The Business Mirror and He has volunteered to cover Oxfam and HRC’s Sendong response.