S'pore aid, donations a boost in island's rebound

S'pore aid, donations a boost in island's rebound

BUSUANGA, Philippines - Haiyan came ashore for the sixth and last time on Nov 8 last year in Busuanga island in Palawan province, three hours after it levelled Tacloban city about 1,000 km to the east.

Those three hours gave islanders enough to time to save lives - only eight people died, compared to nearly 3,000 in Tacloban. Still it was not enough lead time to save all the houses, schools, clinics, government halls and other buildings Haiyan tore through as it exited the Philippines. In one village, only five houses were left standing.

"We saw what was happening in Tacloban, so we went to areas where people stubbornly refused to leave, and we forced them to evacuate," said Mr Tommy Cruz, an alderman in Busuanga town.

Nothing as dramatic as the tragedy in Tacloban unfolded on Busuanga island - which consists of two towns, Busuanga and Coron.

So it became a sidebar, though the typhoon nearly wiped out the livelihoods of its farming and fishing communities.

In Coron, a tourist destination, the airport was shut down, all the hotels were unusable, and some 14,000 out of the town's population of about 42,000 were evacuated. There was no flood of help, as in Tacloban. But some did arrive. And a lot came from Singapore.

When President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited the Philippines in April this year, he presented $7 million in donations to partners of the Singapore Red Cross.

One of them was Life! Community Development, a Singapore-based organisation that has done charity work in areas decimated by the Indian Ocean tsunami across Asia and by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

Over the past year, Life! and the Singapore Red Cross have used more than $800,000 donated by Singaporeans, and Filipinos living in Singapore, to bankroll 15 projects in Busuanga, a municipality with a population of barely 22,000 spread over an area half the size of Singapore, and where one in 10 are malnourished.

They donated a four-wheel-drive ambulance and a large outrigger canoe with two motors that now serves as a sea ambulance.

There is no hospital in Busuanga town. For medical emergencies, patients have to be taken to more prosperous Coron - about 50 km away but a two-hour drive because of bad roads - or to Culion island, which takes some four hours to reach by boat.

The local Agape Rural Programme helped donations from Singapore find their way to the rebuilding of eight classrooms in three schools, and five health facilities. Simple water systems were built to give seven villages a nearer source of clean water. In one village, it takes about three hours of hiking to get fresh water from a spring deep in the mountains.

A model organic farm was set up to help farmers in the remote island of Calauit expand their yields from just rice to crops like tomatoes, chillies and aubergines to help fight malnutrition.

Efforts like these have been replicated in 85 other communities that laid along Haiyan's path. In Albuera town, Leyte province, an effort led by former SAF commando Julian Tan produced a school with 15 classrooms for 300 students.

Out of 20 post-disaster recovery and reconstruction programmes of the Singapore Red Cross in all, 11 have been completed and handed over to local communities, and the rest are on schedule, the group's secretary-general Benjamin William announced yesterday.

Mr Carlo Heathcote, programme executive for post-disaster and reconstruction of the Singapore Red Cross, said: "Everybody has a natural tendency to help others, especially if you have an event that touches thousands who are on your doorsteps, and where you have been to on holidays.


This article was first published on Nov 8, 2014.
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