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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Spare a charitable thought for our Filipino compatriots

Tragedy and natural disasters have marked this Christmas in the devout nation

A village in Salvador, Lanao del Norte in southern Philippines was among those devastated by flash floods. Reuters
A village in Salvador, Lanao del Norte in southern Philippines was among those devastated by flash floods. Reuters

It is a rare thing to see a president moved to tears, particularly one as renowned for taking a tough stance as Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte. But with one tragedy after another hitting his country at a time which should be marked by celebrations and festivities, it would take a heart of stone not to break down. Tropical storm Tembin devastated the southern island of Mindanao on Friday, claiming more than 230 lives, leaving more than 160 missing and displacing up to 75,000, while heavy rain is hampering the search for survivors. The tragedy was compounded when fire swept through a shopping mall in Davao on Saturday, killing 37 people, and 20 Catholic pilgrims on their way to a dawn Christmas service were killed in a bus collision.

All of this would be hard to bear on any given day but in a nation with a large population of devout Christians, the fact they took place during a religious holiday only adds to the overwhelming sense of grief and loss, reflected in Mr Duterte’s tears as he comforted grieving families of the mall fire victims. In Mindanao, search-and-rescue teams, emergency workers, soldiers, police and volunteers have been mobilised but their efforts have been hampered by lost power and communication lines in the area. The Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund has dispatched $31,000 - yet that will only provide relief for 1,000 families, a fraction of those in need. It will take a marathon coordinated effort from the international community to minimise suffering and loss and ensure those displaced are rehomed as soon as possible. The storm also raises the question: how on earth can countries mitigate against future natural disasters? The Philippines is frequently battered by tropical storms, which test the efficiency of its government’s response and ability to prepare its services and its people to prevent such great losses. In the case of Tembin, villagers ignored warnings to abandon coastal areas and were swept away in flash floods and landslides. As tens of thousands of victims spend Christmas in shelters in the aftermath and countless others remain frantic for news of loved ones, including many of the 680,000 Filipinos living and working in the UAE, every charitable act counts in helping those who find themselves in dire circumstances.