Working in support of Oxfam in the Philippines, Scarlett Johansson recently appeared in a video on YouTube where she urgently requested help and donations to assist the victims of typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it is locally known.
Whole swathes of the countryside have been completely wiped out by the typhoon, leaving no homes standing, trees completely flattened and farmlands destroyed. Infrastructure for the supply of clean water and food has been decimated.
Oxfam is hoping to provide clean water, tarpaulins and emergency shelter for around 500,000 people affected by the devastation in the country. They want to support households in rebuilding their livelihoods, and to get food markets up and running again, so that people can eat and live a relatively normal life again.
Besides this, the typhoon has wiped out around a third of the country’s rice growing areas. According to Oxfam, unless rice farmers in the devastated areas receive assistance, millions of Filipino people will be without food in the coming months.
Harvests in the five regions worst hit by the disaster have been completely destroyed, which could mean not only that Filipinos will be without their staple daily food, but also will lead to a huge loss of income and increased debt for the farmers in the region.
The typhoon happened just at a time when farmers were involved in the main season paddy crop harvest, which represents more than 50 percent of their annual production.
The possibility of so many people going hungry in the Philippines is what prompted Scarlett Johansson to request help from the general public, as so often a celebrity can have more of an impact when such assistance is requested.
Justin Morgan, Country Director in the Philippines for Oxfam has warned that time is running out fast to give the farmers the assistance they need in the form of seeds, fertilizers and tools. The next planting season is in December, which is coming up fast.
He said aid agencies are giving the farmers as much support as they can at this crucial time, working in two of the key rice producing areas, Samar and Leyte, assistance with the clearance of the farms and to restore farm production areas.
However, he says that money is urgently needed to give more agricultural support, in order to be able to grow more rice and to repair the key infrastructure in the country, in order to prevent even worse food emergencies in the future.
They also need to diversify their sources of income, according to the spokesperson for the National Rice Farmers council, Jaime Tadeo.
He said that farmers need help to basically recover from the devastation to both their farms and their livelihoods. They need locally adapted seeds for vegetables and other crops in order to diversify their source of income.
Disaster preparedness is another aspect lacking in the Philippines, according to Oxfam. When their Rapid Assessment Team visited Hernani village in Barangay Batangarea they found that not one house had been spared the storm’s wrath, including those built from concrete.
On arrival in the village, they were told that just one day before the disaster hit, local government representatives came there to warn them. The officials told them to leave and take shelter in a designated evacuation area, located on higher ground.
Another report states that two days before the storm, the government’s official web site posted clear and detailed explanations in Filipino of what a storm surge is, and also how to prepare for it. However, it is not sure how many people actually had access to the Internet to read the warning and heed it’s advice.
When it comes to the people in Hernani, apparently few families took the warning seriously and only left after the wind turned really violent, causing the storm surge. As they attempted to leave they faced a wall of water that villagers compared to a tsunami.
Oxfam stresses that more information on risks and evacuation plans must be shared with the Filipino people and translated into all local languages. In the meantime, Scarlett Johansson stresses in the video below that the people of the Philippines have requested the public’s help by way of donations, before it’s too late.
By: Anne Sewell