1 March 2006

Focus in Philippines Disaster Shifts to Resettlement, Reconstruction

NEW YORK, 28 February (OCHA) -- The United Nations Resident Coordinator's Office and the Philippines National and Provincial Disaster Coordinating Councils (NPCC/PDCC) confirm that the Governor of Southern Leyte Province has officially announced on Friday the end of search and rescue operations in Guinsagon village, after a devastating landslide that hit the village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte Province on 17 February 2006.  The PDCC reported 139 dead, 973 people missing and presumed dead, and 580 survivors.

The Government Operations Centre for Health reports 3,272 people are living in five registered evacuation centres in St. Bernard Municipality.  Those staying in the centres include the former residents of the village of Guinsaugon, those from two neighbouring villages who were partially affected by the original landslides, and those from villages in the vicinity that have been pre-emptively evacuated. 

Preliminary information is that up to 3,850 families (18,862 people) have been affected by the pre-emptive evacuations in three other municipalities of Southern Keyte -- Sogod, Liluan and San Francisco -- where geo-hazard assessments had indicated that there were high levels of risk of additional landslides.

In the last 72 hours, priority has been given to planning for the relocation of the former residents of Guinsagon from the Cristo Rey evacuation centre to a temporary relocation centre while permanent resettlement and reconstruction is underway.  Yesterday, the Philippines Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau presented the first findings of its geo-hazard assessment, which concluded that the populations of five villages in St. Bernard Municipality that were pre-emptively evacuated may have to be permanently re-located due to the  risk of additional landslides.

The logistics and supply working group has consolidated the relief supplies of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Philippines Red Cross into one warehouse in St. Bernard.  A full inventory has been completed, and a system for future tracking and releasing stock to evacuation centres has been developed.  The working group on environmental health continues to monitor the water quality and sanitary requirements of the evacuation centres, and the Department of Health has further developed its system of disease surveillance.  The emergency working group on children has recommended that children currently in evacuation centres in schools be given priority in temporary relocation to ensure the resumption of school.

Given the emphasis on relocation and resettlement, an additional working group has been established,  and like the other working groups, will include representatives of Government agencies and national and international assistance partners.  On 27 February, the Governor of Southern Leyte Province announced that seven hectares of land in Magbagakay had been designated as the site of a temporary relocation centre for the former residents of Guinsagon village.  A committee on permanent housing will be established by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to provide clarity on the precise number of people requiring permanent resettlement; the number who will have to be accommodated until the end of the rainy season when they can safely return to their homes; and those who can return to their homes immediately.

The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team (UNDAC) continues to support coordination in St. Bernard and at the national level.  Particular focus is being placed on ensuring that local authorities have the capacity to manage and coordinate ongoing and future operations with the departure of international relief providers.  Attention is also being paid to ensure that the United Nations Country Team is able to continue to support the Government in key coordination and technical activities with the eventual departure of the UNDAC team.

For further information, please call:  Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570.

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