Collaborative approach helps survivors of Typhoon Fengshen

The Philippines government, international community, and local private sector all provided assistance in response to Fengshen, the first major typhoon to hit the Philippines this year.

“The Philippines' response collectively has been very good,” said Andrew MacLeod of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office. “The government was able to handle it very well. It has a good mechanism through the National Disaster Coordinating Council [NDCC].”

Originally predicted not to strike land, Fengshen’s irregular movement took the country by surprise. Wind gusts up to 195km per hour and heavy rains caused landslides, flashfloods, and several marine disasters on 21-23 June, killing 781 people, destroying more than 300,000 homes, and causing P11 billion (US$242 million) of damage to agriculture, according to the latest figures from the NDCC.

The typhoon also caused one of the worst marine disasters in the country’s recent history. MV Princess of the Stars, carrying 866 people, sank off Romblon province in the Visayas.

The sea accounted for 173 deaths and only 56 survivors have been found. The rest remain unaccounted for, believed to be trapped inside the capsised ferry or carried by the current to nearby islands. The Philippine Coast Guard’s recovery operations were aborted when 10 tonnes of Endosulfan, a restricted pesticide for use in pineapple plantations, was discovered in the sunken ferry, the NDCC reported.


Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
A fisherman paddles past the sunken remains of the ill-fated Princess of the Stars ferry off Sibuyan island

Fortunately, the dangerous chemical did not mix with the water. Department of Health secretary Francisco Duque III said chemical tests on sea-water samples turned out negative for endosulfan and other contamination. However, the health department issued a temporary fishing ban.

Private force

“I was impressed with the private sector. I’ve never been in a country where corporate social responsibility is really active. I find it really heartening,” MacLeod said.

Telecommunications company Philippine Long Distance Telecommunications (PLDT) and sister company Smart Telecommunications, for instance, provided free calls for relatives of the sunken ship’s victims.

We put up a station in the Manila and Cebu offices of Sulpicio Lines,” said company spokesman Ramon Isberto. They also set up multimedia equipment to flash on big screens the list of survivors and fatalities, according to the NDCC.

The Philippine National Red Cross was the most active private group. During the flashfloods, for instance, it provided rubber boats and helped in relief operations and with medical assistance.

The PNRC also asked its international affiliate, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), to help out. The IFRC appealed for $8 million in cash, kind or services.

PNRC also partnered with local companies such as Smart and PLDT in delivering relief goods to Western Visayas - the area hardest hit during the typhoon.

Smart and PLDT are usually frontrunners in helping calamity-stricken areas in the Philippines. They have a memorandum of agreement with the local Red Cross.


Photo: Kendi Feliciano/IRIN
Destruction in the wake of Typhoon Fengshen in the Western Visayas

Isberto said the company activated local personnel in the typhoon-ravaged areas to tell the Manila office what was urgently needed. "We responded to the specific requests of the personnel on the field,” Isberto said. “We donated water, rice, and selected food items.”

International assistance

The US Navy was the first to offer assistance to the Philippine government by sending the US Naval Ship Stockham to assist in the recovery operations on the sunken ferry. Interpol also provided disaster identification victim (DIV) units to help in the identification of dead bodies.

The UN Country Team through the WFP, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and WHO donated food, water and sanitation provisions, and medicines. USAID donated relief flights worth $650,000 while the Japanese development agency provided generator sets, sleeping pads, water tanks, plastic sheets amounting to P80 million ($1.8 million).

USAID, the French government, the People’s Republic of China, and the Australian government donated a total of $310,000 and Aus $500,000 ($480,000), which was channelled through the Philippine National Red Cross. The Korean government also donated $300,000 through the NDCC.

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