Mindanao bishops offer assistance to displaced people

Church leaders warn against the possible outbreak of diseases in post-quake evacuation centers
Mindanao bishops offer assistance to displaced people

A man prepares food outside a tent in a village in the outskirts of Makilala town in the southern Philippines. Thousands of people continue to live in temporary shelters after a series of strong earthquakes hit the region last month. (Photo supplied)

Catholic bishops in the southern Philippines have vowed to help government efforts to rehabilitate communities affected by a series of strong earthquakes last month.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops' conference, said church relief and rehabilitation efforts will focus on "pockets of people" who have refused to leave their communities.

He said efforts will focus on people who are not in government-run evacuation centers and will help identify and locate affected families in communities.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan has appealed to local government units in the area to come up with a comprehensive plan to address the needs of displaced villagers.

The prelate said the government should start organizing the evacuation centers to avoid the possible outbreak of diseases and other "untoward incidents." He suggested the construction of common kitchens and latrines to maintain sanitation.

"Currently, evacuees are individually cooking in front of their tents. That’s dangerous. The problem here is sanitation. Eventually sanitation will become a problem in evacuation centers, although I hope it will not happen," said Bishop Bagaforo.

The prelates have visited several centers in Cotabato province this week to assess the situation.

The church leaders assured that they are ready to assist affected communities.

Bishop Bagaforo suggested the government look for relocation sites for villagers whose communities have been destroyed. "We would like help [but] we need some kind of direction from the government on how we can assist them," he said.

At least five villages in the town of Makilala in Cotabato province have already been declared off limits because of threats of landslides. "So where will you place them? Classes are about to resume in schools — you cannot sacrifice the children," the bishop said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said more than 870 schools were damaged, affecting the education of over 3.4 million children.

The agency also said that at least 70 health facilities, 25 bridges and 80 other public structures have been affected.

In the town of Makilala alone, at least 20,000 houses in 38 villages were damaged, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines earlier launched an appeal for earthquake victims, particularly in Kidapawan and Digos dioceses in Davao del Sur province.

Caritas Philippines, the bishops' humanitarian arm, and other church organizations have already deployed personnel to assist affected communities.

The church aid agency said many victims are still in urgent need of food, water, mosquito nets, hygiene kits and materials for temporary shelters like tents.

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