South Asia Disasters Still Taking Toll on Victims, NGOs

The nationwide death toll from the northern Philippines' landslides and flooding stands at more than 600 since back-to-back storms started pounding the area late last month.

Hundreds of thousands, meanwhile, are still displaced, and the damage from the worst flooding in 40 years is adding extra weight to already strained NGOs.

"It is a major calamity," says Pat Johns, the director of emergency response for Catholic Relief Services, "and it's going to take a lot of work to respond to it."

On Saturday, water from days of rain rose to chest level and, in some locations, even rose as high as the second floor of a local mall.

"The province of Pangasinan is literally underwater," reported Sister Rosanne Mallillin, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines.

It has been over three weeks since tropical storm Ketsana, locally known as Ondoy, made its landfall on Sept. 26 and unleashed continuous heavy rains for almost 8 hours. One week later, Tropical Depression Parma struck, roaring back and forth across the north for a week and dumping 27 inches of rain on Oct. 8 - more in one day than the monthly average.

Prior to Parma's landfall the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) reported that the total number of population affected was 3,084,997 individuals (629,466 families) from 1,368 barangays (communes) all over the hard-hit island of Luzon. Around 10,203 houses, furthermore, were partially or totally damaged.

Rescue operations have since been progressing slowly with some areas not yet able to be reached, including those still under water.

When the floodwaters finally recede, the region will face a massive cleanup and rebuilding effort to restore homes, businesses, rice fields and fish ponds.

Though international relief groups are on the ground assisting victims, they have already been stretched thin from the wave of disasters in Asia, including quake-triggered tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga two weeks ago; and the powerful earthquakes that struck Indonesia, killing at least 784.

In southern India alone, meanwhile, millions of poor villagers are facing an imminent food shortage following months of intense drought and recent devastating floods.

"There's never a good time for one, or two or four disasters, but this year's crises, and the latest Pacific island emergencies, are coming at a really bad time," reported the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Sevice .

Last week, McCullough "urgently" asked for help from the international community.

"CWS asks that people do what they can," he stated. "We know from the past that by joining together we can make a difference."

Groups currently providing assistance to the disaster hit Asia Pacific region include CWS, CRS, World Vision, Caritas Internationalis, Samaritan's Purse, Lutheran World Relief, and many more.

For Manila alone, World Vision was globally attempting to raise $2 million to enable a comprehensive response.