A sombre Christmas in the Philippines

Published 25 December 2013  |  

(AP)
A Filipino man prays during a Mass at the damaged Santo Nino church, in Tacloban, Philippines, Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Philippines is facing a difficult Christmas as millions remain homeless and are struggling to cope with the effects of the catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan.

The official death toll now stands at over 6,000, and more than 1,700 remain missing after the storm hit last month. This makes Haiyan the deadliest in the country's history, similar in scale to the impact of the 2004 tsunami.

Over four million homes were destroyed in the typhoon and an estimated 14 million have been affected, but even in the midst of absolute devastation people across the country - which is predominantly Catholic - are determining to hold some form of celebration this season.

Oxfam reports cases such as 25-year-old Rowan who has decorated using Christmas ornaments he found in the debris. "We wanted to celebrate Christmas in some way," he says.

Haiyan wreaked havoc on some of the poorest areas of the Philippines, causing up to 95 per cent complete devastation in cities such as Tacloban.

The Filipino government has estimated that it will cost over $8 billion over four years to rebuild following the catastrophe, and President Benigo Aquino has appealed for further assistance and funding from the international community to meet both urgent and long-term needs.

He has also stressed the importance of safeguarding the Philippines from future storms. "We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in a vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction. We are going to build back better," he declared.

"The task immediately before us lies in ensuring that the communities that rise again do so stronger, better and more resilient than before."

Oxfam is one of many charities and agencies that are working to support the Filipino people in rebuilding their lives in the wake of the typhoon.

They are providing safe water, toilets and much needed hygiene kits, as well as helping to repair and rebuild structures vital for people's livelihoods such as fishing boats and nets.

"The challenge now is to manage the transition from the end of the emergency relief phase to early recovery," says Peter Struijf, who is in charge of Oxfam's humanitarian response in Tacloban.

"The key is to reduce vulnerabilities especially for those whose longer term livelihoods is very much at risk."

Oxfam has stated its commitment to continuing its work with community groups and local teams on the ground in the Philippines to tackle issues of inequality and poverty as part of its rehabilitation and long-term development work.

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