Many residents in the province of Samar are struggling to cope with the consequences of protracted armed conflicts, compounded by powerful typhoons that have hit this underdeveloped area of central Philippines in recent years.
Merita Dacutanan, who depends on planting rice and corn to feed her family, finds life to be very difficult. “Sometimes it is unsafe to go into farming because of sporadic firefights,” the 55-year-old farmer from Cataydongan village, in the municipality of San Jose de Buan, said. “Life gets even harder when we are battered by a typhoon.
In December last year, typhoons such as Hagupit, locally known as Ruby, brought strong winds and dumped torrential rains on Samar and other provinces of central Philippines, damaging crops and other sources of livelihood.
In Samar, the vast majority – some say at least 90 percent – of the population is involved in farming. Rice, vegetables and coconut are the principal products grown in this part of central Philippines.
Poverty and food insecurity push the residents to the margins of society. Responding to these needs, the ICRC and the Philippine Red Cross assisted 388 families in four villages of San Jose de Buan – Can-aponte, Cataydongan, Hagbay and San Nicolas – in January this year. The residents received vegetable seed, fertilizer, agricultural tools such as back-pack sprayers and machetes, and cash incentives.
“The assistance programme is intended to support the livelihoods of the people in these communities and improve their overall farm productivity,” said Sabine Gralla, head of the ICRC’s office in Tacloban.
Generating more income
Dacutanan, a recipient of vegetable seed and agricultural hand tools, said the assistance will help her family get their feet back on the ground: “Our lives will improve and become normal again because we can generate more income.” Meanwhile, Dacutanan receives financial support from the ICRC so she can regularly visit her brother detained in Catbalogan Provincial Jail in connection with the armed conflict.
Marciano Babatyo, 70, a resident of Can-aponte village, obtained a cash incentive that will be used to purchase swine. He explained that livestock raising will pave the way to earning more income so he can help his youngest son finish school. “This assistance is such a big help,” said Marciano.
Aimed at enhancing livelihoods, the ICRC projects in these communities are based on a community participatory approach. The beneficiaries are involved in identifying and designing the assistance and are placed at the heart of the decision-making process.
“The farmers were asked to decide what activities they wanted to pursue – such as swine raising or vegetable planting – as well as the resources they needed, and to propose ideas on how to make their resources or tools sustainable in the long term,” ICRC agronomist Marcos Bollido explained.
Signs of resilience
Although many of their livelihoods and properties were destroyed in December last year, residents have shown resilience and remain empowered to restore their self-sufficiency.
Merlina Pacimos, 47, another Can-aponte village resident, said the quality of the seed and the agricultural hand tools she and her husband received will allow them to have a fresh start after Typhoon Hagupit destroyed all their crops and damaged their house.
“The earnings from the vegetable harvest will go towards eventually rebuilding our partially damaged house,” Merlina said. “We will work hard to survive the challenge.”
Aside from providing livelihood support to communities in various parts of the Philippines, the ICRC, a neutral and independent humanitarian organization whose mandate is to protect and assist victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, also visits detainees and promotes compliance with international humanitarian law.
The ICRC has been working in the Philippines for over 60 years, with a permanent presence since 1982. It has offices in Manila, Visayas (Bacolod, Catarman, Marabut and Tacloban), and Mindanao (Bislig, Cotabato, Davao and Zamboanga).