Sunday, 25 October 2009

Philippines diary: Pearl of the Orient

Marge, me and Gina with the UNICEF Facebook page
© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Andy Brown
I arrived in Manila on Sunday afternoon, seven hours and 15°C out of synch with the local time and climate following an overnight flight from London. I’m here to help UNICEF Philippines develop their website, expand their presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter and create new web content by visiting and reporting on UNICEF projects throughout the country.

That was the plan at least. Three weeks before I was due to leave, Typhoon Ketsana (known locally as Tropical Storm Ondoy) slammed into Manila, one of the most densely populated urban centres in the world, deluging it with 18 inches of rain in 12 hours and flooding 80 per cent of the city. Over 600 people were killed and nearly 400,000 were forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in evacuation centres. In total, over 6 million people were affected by the typhoon and subsequent flooding.

I really had no idea what to expect when arriving here. My plane flew in over waterlogged fields near the coast but Manila itself seemed clear. There was no sign of people wading waist deep through the streets that had become rivers like I’d seen on the news. However, Manila straddles a narrow strip of land between the coast and a large inland lake and I later discovered that poorer areas of the city, on the lake side, are still underwater. Without proper drainage or sanitation in these areas, the risks have now changed from drowning to disease, including outbreaks of cholera.