Help for Yolanda survivors flowing from Laos

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 22 Nov) – Some of the Filipino expatriates who gathered in a pledging session at the Philippine Embassy here Thursday evening were teary-eyed while watching a video on the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) in the Philippines.

“The disaster was overwhelming. Thus, it needs our overwhelming response,” Pastor Erwin Balanay said.

The strongest storm of the year, Yolanda made landfall in central Philippines last November 8 and left 4,011 dead, 18,567 injured and 1,602 missing (as of November 21). It affected over 10 million individuals and damaged at least 700,000 houses in 44 provinces in the country. The total damage cost has reached US$288.92 million.

“We are quite familiar with typhoons but not of the magnitude of Haiyan,” Philippine Ambassador to Lao PDR Maria Lumen Isleta earlier told members of Lao Journalists Association, adding that it was three and half times stronger than Katrina Cyclone that hit the United States in 2005.

Various forms of support poured in from different sectors in Laos. The Filipino community with the Philippine Embassy here joined efforts through “Tulong agos mula sa Laos” (Flow of kindness from friends in Laos) to raise funds for the typhoon survivors back home. Isleta said that as of Thursday the total donations from Laos amounted to US$80,007.25, including US$3,856 actual cash on hand.

The Lao government gave US$50,000 to the Philippines for disaster response to typhoon survivors, while Lao businessmen donated a total of US$24,150.94. Isleta noted that the cash on hand came from various communities in Laos, anonymous donors, the Australian Embassy and students of Panyathip International School here, among others.

The United Nations placed the requirement for Yolanda action at US$300 million last November 12 after President Benigno Aquino III declared State of National Calamity. Isleta cited as of Tuesday the total foreign aid for the Philippines reached US$271 million, including cash worth US$134 million and non-cash US$136 million.

Despite the flowing help from the international community, reports said many more survivors still have not received food, while some organizations criticized the government’s “inefficient” disaster response. In a press statement dated November 13, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate hit the relief operations of the Philippine government, saying “the government is either horribly clueless, badly inefficient or even criminally disorganized.”

For Isleta, she explained that assistance have not been delivered immediately, especially to remote areas, because of the “breakdown of the service delivery system”, adding that members of emergency response groups have also been affected by the calamity and suffered loss of their families.

Expatriates and locals in Laos organized fund-raising events for the typhoon survivors in the Philippines.

Brother Carlo Bacalla, of Don Bosco Laos, initiated the Bike for Haiyan Survivors in Vientiane on Sunday, expecting at least 150 participants. The registration fee will be 10,000 kip (US$1.2) but anyone can give more as a form of donation or buy printed shirts at 60,000 kip each.

Sisters Jesse Encio, Mila Azucena and Cora Jegillo, of the Daughters of Charity in Sacred Heart Parish here, came up with Flea Market for a Cause to be held in the church on December 1. Sister Mila said they will be selling clothes and other materials donated by people in Vientiane for the typhoon survivors. However, Isleta said the embassy discouraged donations in kind as it will be costly to send items to the Philippines compared to sending money.

Everyone is also invited to join a dinner for a cause or a “night of serenade” on December 6 at 7 p.m. at the Mercure Hotel in Vientiane at US$30 per plate. “It will be a fellowship night of solidarity and gratefulness laced with music and art; for the support shown by the world to the Filipino people,” according to Ms Bernadette Gonzales. She cited that Lao-Canadian visual artist Mr Thep Thavounsouk will be selling his painting for US$5,000 and give the proceeds to the survivors. FAVE Club will be donating 20 paintings, while Mr Michael Chan, owner of M Gallery here, will also donate his painting.

Isleta said these efforts are only a part of the first tranche of help flowing from Laos. She said fund raising efforts will continue even until the whole year of 2014 because it will take a long time for the survivors to start a new life.

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange programme in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]