*Started writing this about 2 weeks ago, but only just getting around to posting it….
Tuesday 1st April 2014
This week I went to visit a couple of very remote barangays (villages) in Leyte-Leyte.
It’s an area that had high levels of poverty even before the typhoon hit, and people there have been living on very little for a really long time. As they are so remote and hard to access that they haven’t received much aid/relief, and trucks can’t get up to them, so in order to get rice (aid/relief) supplies they have to walk about an hour to the nearest accessible village.
I spoke to rice farmers there who had planted seeds after Yolanda, but the seeds were clearly damaged and now that it’s harvest time the yield is less than 30%. We saw stalks of rice with no grains inside, due to the poor quality of the seeds, and as the food aid has slowed down and is now being phased out, you wonder how these farmers will feed their families for the next few months until the next planting and harvest season…
Some of the very poorest people in the village don’t have farms, they are landless labourers, hired hands who find work during ploughing, planting, and harvest times when other farmers hire them to help out. Some of them used to harvest coconuts too, but now that the trees are down, and so few farmers have anything to harvest, they are finding there is less and less work to do. The daily wage rate here is around 100-200 pesos per day (approx £1.50-£3 for the day) and some labourers are only managing to find 5 or 6 days of work each month, so monthly income for them is truly a pittance – most of them are earning less than 1,000 pesos a month, which is around £13.50.
Unless the farmers are supported with better seeds, or possibly cash grants to pay for seeds and farm labourers, these people will be forced to turn to negative coping strategies. If the farmers can’t afford to hire the labourers to plant and harvest crops, then both the farms and the labourers suffer. It makes the need to kick-start the local economy in these communities all the more urgent.
There is already evidence of a lot of negative coping strategies being employed by the very poor people in these villages. We have seen higher levels of migration in some places, as the men go to try and find work in cities like Ormoc, Cebu and Manila, leaving the women and children behind to manage the farms by themselves. People are buying food on credit more and more often, or relying on food borrowed from friends and neighbours. They are eating fewer meals a day, and smaller and smaller portions, as well as eating a less varied diet (fewer or no vegetables, no fruits, sugars or fats, mainly only rice and fish every day), which can lead to higher levels of malnutrition as certain crucial vitamins and minerals are absent from their diet. These are people who were already food insecure before the typhoon, and a disaster like Yolanda has made them even more vulnerable.
We used Kalamansi (small lime-type fruits) to do some proportional piling exercises – asking people to imagine that these 20 limes is all of their monthly income, and divide it up into how much they spend on food, or debt repayment, or school fees, clothes, medicine, transportation, soap, and other household items. Unsurprisingly, most often 50% or more of their income is being spent on food, even with the relief goods and food parcels they have received.
I met a man in one village who is down to eating only 1 small meal a day, in order to make sure that his pregnant wife and children can eat at least twice a day. As he is the only member of the family working at the moment, and doing hard physical labour (farming), one wonders how much longer he can keep it up on so few calories…
I met another man in a different village who described his family as mostly only eating rice, and wild vegetables that they found while out foraging, as they couldn’t afford to buy fish very often. However when asked if they had any other source of protein or meat, he informed me with a grin that while out foraging for wild food he had caught a python, so they had plenty of meat for a few days!
It would be easy to feel depressed or disheartened by stories like these, but thankfully I know that we’ll be able to find a way to help most of these people somehow, so I’ll go to sleep at night feeing happy that I’m in a position to do something about it.
Photos of the rural upland villages I’ve been visiting around Leyte-Leyte to follow….