Sunday, 12 August 2012

Death toll from Philippines floods rises to 85

The death toll from torrential rains that submerged most of the Philippines capital this week has risen to 85

Nearly two weeks of monsoon rains across the Philippines' main island of Luzon peaked with a 48-hour deluge earlier this week that battered Manila and surrounding regions.

The extra deaths occurred mainly in the provinces during the initial rain from Monday to Wednesday, but government officials in the outlying areas could not immediately report the casualties to Manila headquarters.

Eight people remain missing as the floods, which submerged 80 per cent of Manila earlier in the week, have largely subsided.

Radio Australia's reporter in Manila, Shirley Escalante, says the massive clean up has begun.

"As floodwaters recede, tonnes of garbage has been left behind littering roads, parks and drains in the capital Manila and surrounding provinces," Ms Escalante said.

Health officials are warning diseases like leptospirosis and diarrhea could spread easily.

Ms Escalante says authorities have price controlled basic food items like bread, noodles and canned goods, to ensure there's enough to go around.

Relief effort
But the government says it's struggling to cope with the scale of the relief effort which is expected to last for weeks.

Tens of thousands of people are continuing to stream into evacuation centres that are already overcrowded and unable to provide enough immediate relief goods.

The Social Welfare Secretary, Corazon Soliman, says local government units are being overwhelmed.

"We have evacuation centres that are congested, that is the whole problem," she said.

More than 362,000 people were sheltering in evacuation centres on Friday, nearly 50,000 more than on Thursday.

Farmland inundated
Water remains waist-deep across a large part of a vital rice growing region to the north of Manila.

"We need something to eat. I haven't gone to work or been paid for a week," said Rogelio Soco, a construction worker and father-of-three in a small farming town outside Manila.

Mr Soco says the floods were the worst the area had seen since a huge typhoon struck in the early 1970s.

Other locals also say they haven't experienced anything like it for decades.

Around the town of Apalit, formerly green rice paddies have been turned into an ocean of brown water.

'Inadequate response'
Local non-government organisation Transform Asia has labelled the government's response inadequate.

"The response really is not good enough," the group's chairwoman Reihana Mohideen told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific.

"For example, there are water pumping stations in the area that I went to. They pump out 15,000 litres of water a day and they were completely overwhelmed. They did not have the capacity to deal with the amount of water."

She said many victims had been living in squatter colonies without proper drainage systems.

"The devastation that you travel through to get to these centres of flooded huts - this is the face of poverty," she said.

"Housing is inadequate. There're no proper drainage systems. The roads get flooded so quickly, and you don't have water catchment to catch and store this water. There's inadequate power supply."

Her comments were echoed by urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel, who said the Philippines had enough technical know-how, and access to financing, to solve the ongoing flood problems.

"It's a lack of appreciation for the benefits of long-term plans. It's a vicious cycle when the planning, the policies and enforcement are not very well synchronised," said Mr Einseidel, who was Manila's planning chief from 1979-89.

"I haven't heard of a local government, a town or city that has a comprehensive drainage masterplan."

This week's rains were the worst to hit Manila since Tropical Storm Ketsana killed 464 people in 2009.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje warned that the Philippines must prepare for more intense rains caused by climate change, describing the latest deluge as the "new normal".

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