Partners in Southeast Asia Respond to Monsoon Flooding

August 20, 2012

Heavy monsoon rains and severe flooding are widespread through a large part of southern and southeastern Asia, impacting millions of people.  Currently, Episcopal Relief & Development is working through local partners in the Philippines and a remote region in eastern India to provide emergency relief.

In the Philippines, millions of people are struggling to recover from weeks of unusually intense monsoon rains that have claimed more than 170 lives.  According to one report, the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has provided relief aid to nearly a million people impacted by the floods, including more than 216,000 at evacuation centers.

In response to the need for emergency assistance, Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner – the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) – is using local resources to support a food distribution program and supplying candles to households that are without electricity.  In addition, Episcopal Relief & Development will be providing support to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente for their relief efforts.

Based in Manila, the ECP offices are situated on higher ground than much of the surrounding area, so its operations were not heavily impacted by the rains and local staff were able to mobilize a response.  Usually the Church would purchase and distribute bread to families impacted by floods, either at central locations or directly to families living in the upper floors of their homes, but a two-week bread shortage made that unfeasible.  Instead, ECP staff used surplus camote (sweet potatoes) that had been purchased earlier for resale from regional farmer’s cooperatives, but which could not be sold due to weather-related travel challenges.  A food distribution program for evacuees was established at the Cathedral in Manila, and cooked camote was brought to people who were living in their homes but unable to do any cooking.

“People enjoyed it, [and are] asking for more,” said Floyd Lalwet, Director of the ECP’s Community Based Development Program.  “The Cathedral also distributed our excess tomatoes, which can be eaten raw.  What we gave was entirely different from the usual relief food which are noodles, bread and sardines.”

The ECP also distributed candles that are made by community members participating in an economic empowerment group in Caloocan.  The candles are providing light to households that are waiting for electricity service to be restored, and they also gave Church staff an opportunity to spread the word about their programs.

“People are positively surprised with this kind of assistance, they are also curious where [the items] came from, and so it is an opportunity for us to explain to them our program and to say that our communities which produce the goods are in solidarity with them,” Lalwet explained.  “We discovered that we are putting up bridges as some women have also expressed interest in doing soap-making, etc., and that when the situation stabilizes we can continue engagement with them.”

“My first trip to the Philippines in July to visit the Church’s programs left me incredibly impressed with their ability to use local resources to strengthen and care for their communities,” said Sara Delaney, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.  “When I saw news of the flooding I knew they would be busy responding, and the story of their efforts is truly inspiring. I know they appreciate the thoughts and prayers of Episcopal Relief & Development’s friends and supporters.”

Also responding to the flood situation around the greater Manila area is the Task Force on Emergency Relief of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), in cooperation with Operation Sambayanihan, the IFI’s emergency relief arm.  A number of IFI churches opened their doors to serve as evacuation centers, and plan to offer food, medical services, clothes, personal care kits, diapers and other items to those who were forced out of their homes by rising waters.  The Church is planning its activities to complement government resources and initiatives, especially reaching out to families who chose to remain in their homes in spite of the flood, and who may be left out of facility-based relief efforts.

“One thing the Church is good at is filling in the gaps, knowing where official service provision is not as strong and reaching out to people who might have fallen through the cracks.  The IFI is very well organized, and we are pleased to be able to support their efforts at this time,” Delaney said.

Communities throughout southern and southeastern Asia continue to be affected by heavy rains.  Episcopal Relief & Development is also supporting relief activities in response to mid-July flooding in the Eastern Himalaya region of India through its partnership with the Diocese of Durgapur, part of the Church of North India.  According to local staff, most of the people affected by the flooding are daily laborers on tea plantations (the Darjeeling district is in this region), and many have lost their homes as well as crops and livestock.  

Some families are being sheltered in local schools, and area children are being transported to school for exams by domesticated elephant.  Focusing on underserved rural areas, the Diocese of Durgapur is distributing food and household items and digging wells to provide clean drinking water to 100 families in two villages where flood damage was very severe.  The Church is also providing support for the construction of 10 houses to supply temporary shelter for evacuees.

“The region impacted by flooding is extremely remote,” said Saranga Jain, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.  “The Diocese of Durgapur and its local contacts are uniquely equipped to provide assistance in these areas, where connections to larger infrastructure are limited and the Church is one of the only sources of support.  We want to do what we can to help those who have lost so much in these floods.”

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25.  Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners to help rebuild after disasters and to empower local communities to find lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.