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The people disasters hit hardest

"I just want to get out of here," Ethel says, wiping away her tears with a tired smile. "I want to get out of poverty."

Friday April 15, 2016

Ethel and her family
Ethel and her children in the home they built from scavenged materials. All photos: Australian Red Cross/Cheryl Gagalac

Most people living in Ethel's neighbourhood literally have nowhere else to go. An informal settlement built over a swamp in south-eastern Manila, the community is filled with people who have moved from rural areas seeking work in the cities.  

Ethel and her husband came here three years ago, hoping for a job in the rapidly-growing construction industry. So far they have not been successful and Ethel is raising three young children in the home they built themselves from scavenged materials: rusted corrugated iron, plywood, cracked plasterboard and tarpaulins, placed high on rickety poles to keep the water out.

Most residents have no land permits, so services are non-existent and no agency is allowed to help them improve their homes. This means no rubbish is collected: the creek is choked with garbage and the tiny streets flood regularly. The tiny homes are also highly vulnerable to fire.  

"There was a typhoon in December and it rained night and day," Ethel remembers. "We were trapped in the house for two days. I was sad because it was almost Christmas."  

Although the flood subsided by Christmas, Ethel spent the day sick in bed. "I had a fever, felt very weak all the time," she says of her illness, most likely dengue transmitted by the mosquitoes that infest the area.  

"I am worried about a bigger flood because I can't save all my things," she says. Even a cooking pot or a pillow washed away would take months of scrimping and saving to replace.

Red Cross has trained local residents like Larry (above) in disaster management and evacuation procedures. When they receive a flood warning, they will help Ethel and her family gather their things and evacuate to safer ground. Fire extinguishers have been placed around Ususan; and the next step is to work with local authorities to improve drainage and sanitation. 

Larry feels more confident about what to do the next time. "I'll go house to house, rounding up my neighbours and helping them evacuate," he says.

"I've always wanted to help people. Before I joined Red Cross, I didn't know how."  

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