Philippines

Situation Report

Highlights

  • A 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck the province of Masbate in the Bicol Region at 8.03 a.m. local time on 18 August 2020
  • UN, humanitarian partners launch largest COVID-19 response plan to aid 5.4M poorest Filipinos
COVID-19 Response Plan

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Situation Report

Key Figures

207K
persons displaced (Mindanao earthquakes)
309,303
COVID-19 Confirmed Cases (as of 29 Sept)

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Funding

$27.7M
COVID-19 HRP (as of 05 August)

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Contacts

Mark Bidder

Head of Office

Manja Vidic

Humanitarian Affairs Officer

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Situation Report
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WHD2020
#WHD2020 #RealLifeHeroes #WorldHumanitarianDay

World Humanitarian Day 2020 Videos and Stories

The United Nations (UN) and humanitarian partners pay tribute to the Real-Life Heroes --- the humanitarian and frontline workers. We salute them for continuously putting their lives on the line, despite the risks and uncertainties. These short videos highlight inspired actions and extraordinary feat of local real-life heroes and the community they serve.

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Health information session in one of the at-risk Barangays in Cebu City. Photo/FundLife
Health information session in one of the at-risk Barangays in Cebu City. Photo/FundLife

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 5)

Considering the limitations in resources and capacities to sustain the provision of COVID-19 humanitarian assistance to the affected population in the Central Visayas Region, a convergence of Cebu City-based local non-government and civil society organizations (LNG/CSOs) is seeking urgent financial support from the United Nations (UN), International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs), donors and other Humanitarian Funding Groups and Networks (HFGNs) present in the country.

More than four months since the declaration of the lockdown and enhanced community quarantine last March 2020, the Zero Extreme Poverty (ZEP) 2030 Cebu Convergence of LNGOs/CSOs warned that COVID-19 exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of affected communities, which are receiving but minimum support and in most cases have received nothing at all. If this situation continues in the next coming months, ZEP said in a joint statement, there will be a humanitarian crisis across hard lockdown areas in Central Visayas.

As of 04 August 2020, there are 16, 145 confirmed cases in the entire Central Visayas, with Cebu City alone recording 9, 075. The spike in numbers puts Cebu City and other at-risk areas in Central Visayas as a new hotspot of COVID-19 cases in the country. Cebu City now has more cases than Manila's largest city, Quezon City, which has about 6, 880. It is also outpacing other cities in terms of the number of cases according to the Department of Health (DOH). Since July, the DOH, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), is sending more doctors and other resources to Cebu City as many patients are on waiting lists, considering all major hospitals are close to reaching full capacity. Even big hospitals in Cebu City that handle coronavirus cases are now facing challenges in managing the surge of local transmission cases. In the last week of June, Cebu City, with a population of nearly 1 million, was placed again under strict stay-at-home orders.

The dwindling provision of lifesaving aid, limited access to financial support and other livelihood opportunities prompted seven LNGOs/CSOs and one private organization under the ZEP Convergence to call for action to support as they struggled to supplement local government’s response and recovery interventions to support isolated and affected families. The said convergence is comprised of the following organizations: Central Visayas Network of NGOs (CENVISNET), Fellowship for Organizing Endeavors, Inc. (FORGE), A2D Project-Research Group for Alternatives to Development, ImPACT, Coalition for Better Education, Inc. (CBE), Cebu University of Southern Philippines Foundation - Community Extension Services (USPF-CES), FundLife Philippines and Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI).

With a development goal of uplifting one million Filipino families from extreme poverty, the ZEP Convergence was established in Cebu last August 2019. However, early this year, the priority of the most of the LNGOs and CSOs members has dramatically shifted to the immediate provision of emergency support to the COVID-19 severely affected communities in the Metro Cebu and other urban cities in Central Visayas.

“One Bayanihan” COVID-19 Emergency Response

Anticipating that Metro Cebu will encounter the same challenges with the National Capital Region (NCR) in dealing with poor detection, isolation and contact tracing, a locally-led emergency response initiative “One Bayanihan” (Filipino’s traditional sense of belongingness) was organized by Bidlisiw Foundation, Bayanihan Mission, Glory Reborn and FundLife to specifically focus on the most vulnerable groups. With Php 1million ($20, 000) seed funding from the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), since March 2020, the initiative has reached 25,000 individuals through the provision of food relief, water-sanitation-hygiene (WASH), and health information sessions in Metro Cebu.

“We are also reaching out to global partners who are experts in distance-learning solutions as well as donors who are seeking innovative approaches that can be scaled. FundLife believes in cooperation and working in partnership with local NGOs for the benefit of children and the urban poor sectors who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic”, FundLife Director Mark Kasic said.

FundLife is in discussion with the Central Visayas Network of NGOs (CENVISNET), a local network of CSOs, for a possible partnership on recovery and rehabilitation program in Metro Cebu. Before any recovery can commence, however, the ZEP convergence also cautioned of response gaps and continuing needs in nutrition and food security, healthcare, education, child nutrition and protection, WASH as well as cash assistance to jumpstart affected local livelihood.

To support localized COVID-19 response, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG) reinforce their commitment to engage the LNGOs and CSOs in the Visayas Region. Bilateral meetings and possible partnerships with some LNGOs and CSOs are part of the core strategies of the in-country COVID-19 humanitarian response plan (HRP) including cluster or sectoral support for vulnerable groups and affected communities in Cebu City and other at-risk areas like the Central Visayas.

The UN and humanitarian partners in the Philippines released on 4 August 2020 the revised version of the HCT COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan, the largest in the country since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Twenty-three (23) per cent of the response plan has been mobilized, so far, including support to affected communities in Central Visayas.

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Relief distribution
Relief distribution in Cagayan Province. Photo credit: ACCORD

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 4)

Locally led pooled fund shaping the future of funding support

Uncertainty will be part of the new normal, which also holds true in terms of additional or future funding for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Faith-Based Groups (FBGs) and People’s Organizations (POs) that are currently responding to COVID-19 response.

There are many organized and informal Filipino groups across the world that are engaged in providing support to the Philippines. While Filipino diaspora has itself been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense for the local civil society to reach out to these groups, also to mainstream and maximize local platforms for greater community impact and giving the opportunity to help each other.

With more than 1,600 members across the country, Caucus of Development Non-Government Organizations (CODE-NGO) is the biggest coalition of CSOs working on humanitarian and social development. Since 1990, it is one of the trusted national voices advancing the capacities of CSOs across the country to exercise transformative leadership. One of the local funding mechanisms that the CODE-NGO is encouraging for Filipino overseas to support is the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER). Being considered as the first locally led joint fundraising initiative and a pooled fund in the country, SAFER raises funds for local organizations that provide immediate life-saving assistance to victims in times of crises.

CODE-NGO is also raising the profile of SAFER within its networks, which include various overseas Filipino groups to continuously support its platform considering the country is also facing threats from other compounding natural hazards. For example, while the country is still dealing with the pandemic, Typhoon Vongfong (local name Ambo), a first tropical cyclone in this year’s rainy season, left a trail of extensive damage to Eastern Visayas and Bicol Regions when it made series of landfalls on 14 May.

SAFER is also expecting another round of donation from the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition (PHC), an alliance of Filipino-American organizations in the Washington D.C. region. It is part of the bigger coalition of overseas Filipinos, the National Federation of the Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA). Created in 2013 as a response to the call of the then Philippine Ambassador in Washington for a united community effort to address urgent needs of people affected by the typhoon Haiyan, PHC has since then became provided support to various humanitarian response efforts in the Philippines and is one of SAFER’s biggest donors.

The role of faith-based organizations

The National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), has been working with the various levels of the government and providing support to affected communities in several humanitarian emergencies. NASSA is requesting its global supporters to directly send in-kind or cash assistance to local dioceses and amplify the universal call to inclusively support interfaith networks of Filipinos and consolidate various support for COVID-19 response. Being at the forefront in the promotion of the rights of most vulnerable and poorest of the underdeveloped sectors in the country, NASSA continues to advocate for support coming from Filipino overseas.

These challenging times may push the limits of many organizations supporting local governments and affected communities but in taking the long view, coming together and becoming more connected has never been as crucial as it is now in beating the new coronavirus and ensuring the full recovery of the affected areas, socially and economically. The silver lining is that there is an opportunity for a transformative shift in how most international organizations and donors engage and support local actors and community groups in the country, both in the ongoing COVID-19 response and future emergencies. It will be crucial to seize the moment to further strengthen the partnerships and systems that underpin localized humanitarian action in the Philippines.

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Dressmaking
Dressmaking livelihood in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte. Photo credit: EcoWEB

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 3)

The third of the series on localization delves into specific interventions and contributions of local actors for COVID-19 response. It highlights the importance of approaches and experience of local actors as well the need to enhance local engagement platforms trusted by at-risk communities, people in need and the affected population.

How Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and People Organizations (POs) support the local government and affected people in their livelihood?

Throughout the lockdown in the Philippines that lasted from mid-March until mid-May, Ecosystem Work for Essential Benefits (ECOWEB) has been supporting the Philippine Fiber Authority (PFA) and local government in Mindanao (including Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur) in abaca harvesting and fiber extraction, providing alternative jobs and strengthening the food security of affected farmers.

Abaca is a native leaf fiber species from the Philippines and can be commonly found in the Bicol Region and Mindanao areas. The Philippines supplies 87% of abaca fiber demand to the world market. It is considered one of the most important exported products in the country for its in-demand lustrous fiber that can be hand-loomed into elegant textiles.

In late March, the PFA announced that demand for abaca had risen since it is both a technically suitable and durable raw material for the local mass production of protective equipment, including face masks. As no vaccine is yet available, the use of protective personal equipment (PPE) together with proper washing of hands remains the primary defense measures against COVID-19. Tested and approved by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) last March 2020, abaca fiber mask has a filtration rate seven times better than cloth product and has lower water absorption than N95 masks.

With strong local networks in Mindanao, ECOWEB is expanding its project to support more farmers (currently 800 in the Iligan conflict-affected areas) across Mindanao areas on local abaca fiber extraction and to help existing cooperatives shift to the local manufacture of PPE. The PPE abaca project will complement the ongoing community livelihood programmes supporting local dressmakers, loom weavers and fiber manufacturers.

“Clearly there is a market for abaca despite the COVID-19 crisis. The main goal is to be always sensitive to the alternative means for people to survive and ensure that they are secure in terms of access to food and daily income. That’s why we are investing some of our core resources for this project and expanding it to deal with big challenges under new normal situation. Impact to an already vulnerable sector like the farmers will be great in the long run because of the COVID-19”, said Regina Antequiza, ECOWEB Executive Director.

To support persons with disabilities who have lost their jobs, the Inclusive Humanitarian and Development Center-BBMC, a local NGO, has been supporting its members across the country in the production of customized washable facemask made of durable cloth. It partners with other NGO networks to purchase their product as support to affected persons with disabilities.

Flexible re-alignment of funds from donors

Due to competing global demands and travel restrictions, it is difficult to bring international support to the country. Previously reliable supply chains have been heavily disrupted, affecting procurement, packaging and delivery of medical supplies and other essentials. To mobilize new international funding has also been a challenge to many aid organizations.

In case of the Assistance and Cooperation for Resilience and Development (ACCORD), portions of their COVID-19 response efforts across the country had to be changed against existing funding coming from their partners and donors such as ECHO, CARE-Philippines and Governments of Germany, Czech Republic and Netherlands, who provided scope for the flexibility needed.

While most of the programme funding previously approved was focused on development, ACCORD was able to early re-align their budget so that they could immediately deploy in several targeted provinces lifesaving aid in form of water-health-sanitation (WASH) kits, personal protective equipment to local partners, emergency food packs to people in need and mobilise local staff that could provide technical advice in setting up community quarantine facilities.

“It has been our practice to inform our big partners and donors about the need to use or re-align portions of the programme budget if there are emergencies. But the COVID-19 crisis is totally different. We have to rely as well on our local partners at the field level for things to move forward on our end. It’s a bit of logistical nightmare to purchase and deploy kits due to travel restrictions and varying implementations of ECQ by the local government”, said Sindhy Obias, ACCORD Executive Director.

The limitation has positively obliged ACCORD to work with their community partners by allowing them to decide, arrange and fix the needed administrative or logistic concerns in order not to delay the transport of aid in various areas. Community partners have identified trusted local suppliers and mobilized volunteers to provide support in transporting the relief packages.

“It helps if you have a well-capacitated and trained local community to be prepared in an event of an emergency. Somehow it validates our approach that in times like this, only they can activate or find creative ways to complement the support we’re providing. It’s not that easy and not something what we wanted but it left us no choice”, Obias said.

ECOWEB too was able to re-align some of its core disaster risk reduction budgets due to flexibility from its main donors, Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID), in order to support local farmers engaged in the production of alcohol for disinfection in Agusan del Norte. Together with the abaca PPE project, supporting farmers and local alcohol production may prove an effective and sustainable alternative livelihood while the COVID-19 crisis persists.

Having a say in developing national guidelines on humanitarian assistance

Together with the Disaster Risk Reduction Network (DRRNET), an alliance of CSOs and FBOs in the country, ACCORD was also supporting the process of reviewing the Philippine government’s protocols for engaging the humanitarian actors under lockdown and community quarantine. Under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the Office of Civil Defense prepared interim guidelines for delivering humanitarian assistance during community quarantine, also by consulting with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and other non-governmental entities. The revised interim guidelines were welcomed by both the government and HCT as they provide greater clarity on the flexible mobility of aid workers while observing the minimum health standards in the provision of aid to at-risk communities. The interim guidelines will also apply for any compounding events, such as natural disasters, and are yet to be fully tested in practice.

The examples above, indicate the importance of working with local partners and relying on local supply chains, a need for funding flexibility in times of COVID-19, as well as the importance of establishing a constructive dialogue with the authorities. Over the longer term, it may just as well be that COVID-19 would require substantial changes to the current humanitarian response model, including programming modalities that are more reliant on national actors, with greater consideration for the humanitarian-development-peace collaboration.

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Flood Prone Area
Transporting food packs in a flood prone slum area in Metro Manila. Photo credit: ACCORD

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 2)

Faith-based groups (FBGs) have always played a critical role in responding to emergencies in the country. Throughout the years, they had established strong links with local government, religious and community leaders, at-risk communities, affected population, as well as with the military. Just like other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), FBGs' engagement for localized COVID-19 pandemic response is considered game changing in terms of areas covered, number of people reached and distinct operational presence that runs similar to the government structure at the national up to the local level.

How do faith-based organizations support local government and at-risk communities?

Though still in its infancy, the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER), a locally led fundraising platform for humanitarian response, has been activated multiple times since its establishment in 2018, including now for the COVID-19 pandemic.

To augment the SAFER initiative, The National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) has activated around 68 dioceses all over the country since March and has been directly supporting various local governments and affected communities. With robust partnership from the private sector and local patrons, NASSA was able to raise PhP 1.6 billion (US$31.6 million). So far, it has implemented a localized distribution of food and provision of cash and gift certificates to 225,000 families directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic in several provinces in the country, including urban poor communities in Metro Manila.

Only a few weeks into the lockdown, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) has partnered with NASSA through Caritas Manila to distribute Php 1,000 ($20) grocery vouchers to 7.6 million families in Metro Manila. The partnership is part of the Project “Ugnayan” (Contact), a Php 1 billion cash transfer program to support over a million at-risk households. NASSA is one of the major partners alongside with other private foundations based in the National Region (NCR). PDRF recognizes the strength of NASSA to easily mobilize its social action community volunteers in areas affected by the lockdown and enhanced community quarantine. Founded in 2009, PDRF is the country's leading private sector network that coordinates disaster risk management among its members and partners.

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said that 90 percent of the assistance came from local donors. “It proves that no matter what the circumstances, even those affected, or at-risk are still capable of providing support and share whatever they can. This is how we understand the nature and context on why our patrons and local donors can easily shell out certain amount of money and ensure those in great need are taken care of”, Gariguez added.

While some local funds are still available, NASSA is worried about how to sustain the humanitarian response if the crisis prolongs for several months or until the next year. Part of the network’s advocacy is promoting a “Bayanihan” approach to the provision of aid within the community and to allow communities the means to recover on its own. Bayanihan is the Filipino term used to describe how community members work together out of a spirit of generosity and selflessness to achieve a positive outcome, which in this case is to protect the most affected population.

International support will take time to reach the most vulnerable, according to the assessment by NASSA. With the various restrictions on mobility impacting conventional delivery of aid, they see an opportunity that will allow greater engagement of inter-faith organizations at the local level to fill the gaps and sustain solid partnership among community groups to sustain assistance in the context of the coronavirus crisis. Currently, some 30 organized FBGs are actively supporting affected local governments and at-risk communities in the country with projects re-aligned to focus on COVID-19. A number of common service partnerships have been established by FBGs and are ready to be rolled out, including cash provision and supporting local markets and short-term livelihood.

Bike Scouts contribute to psychosocial health through essential community connections

With more than 15,000 members across the country, the Bike Scouts of the Philippines is a volunteer group that has been providing free rides to health staff and daily workers in a number of provinces. Their services also include the delivery of essential goods and important documents at the barangay level, the lowest government administrative unit.

For the COVID-19 response, Bike Scouts acted as an essential messenger service between otherwise isolated communities, especially providing free rides and allowing free use of bikes to those who could not afford to travel due to lockdown and had lost their day jobs. Part of Bike Scout’s routine is the “house-to-house connection” where they ask households how they are coping up with the crisis, and then collect and record feedback, which they share with the local government.

“I think our main goal, apart from travelling around and supporting in the risk assessments and other logistics related concerns, is to help restore the essential need for communication between human beings. In a way, what we are doing is a form of psychosocial response, but unlike anything else it specifically addresses the need for human connection as a fundamental element of resilience and hope”, said Myles Delfin, Founder of the Bike Scout of the Philippines.

Around 3, 000 bikers have been actively providing direct support to the local government and at-risk communities across the Luzon and Visayas regions. Bike Scouts has been instrumental in reaching geographically isolated areas especially in the series of Rapid Information, Communication and Accountability Assessments (RICAA) organized by the Humanitarian Country Team’s Community of Practice on Community Engagement.

As COVID-19 pandemic to a large extent immobilized the conventional humanitarian system in terms of its ability to deliver aid, CSOs continue to mobilize resources, although limited, in order to fill the gap and ensure that provision of support to the people in need is not disrupted.

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Market Assessment
Market assessment and consultation in Navotas City. Photo credit: SAFER

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 1)

Over the last decade, the Philippines has been at the forefront of mainstreaming a more localized humanitarian response. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has put a spotlight on the need to further accelerate this process. The pandemic fundamentally underscores not only the central role played by civil society organizations, local governments and at-risk communities themselves but also how the international humanitarian community must adjust to the challenges that lie ahead. With the social and economic consequences of movement restrictions imposed since early March being keenly felt, it has become imperative to support localized action to protect the most vulnerable communities and beat the spread of the virus.

From the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) to the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) position paper, and the Philippines Humanitarian Country Team’s COVID-19 operational response plan and its Call to Action, there is a commitment across all levels - global, regional and national -  to advance the localization agenda in the context of COVID-19 response, build on the agenda agreed at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and support good practices that reinforce a local-first approach in the provision of aid.

It may be easier said than done, as it is not something that can simply be turned on or activated overnight. These urgent calls for greater localization need to articulate how support and resources can be efficiently operationalized to meet various challenges in the country. This goes beyond enhanced humanitarian leadership and coordinated response action as local governments will each respond according to their context and affected people will likely need the combined support of both government and other agencies.

But through the years of responding to various emergencies and capitalizing on existing in-country capacity, the humanitarian community in the Philippines has sought to embrace a localized approach. The experience gained points to the benefits of collective action. There is also recognition that success requires the sharing of resources or capacities from several agencies, the direct engagement of both local governments and the at-risk communities, an openness to innovation and private sector engagement, and recognition of the imperative to consistently put front and center the affected population.

So, how can a humanitarian response be localized amid a pandemic? What is the likely impact in terms of supporting national and local resources and capacities in the long run? And how are civil society organizations (CSOs), faith-based groups (FBGs) and people’s organizations (POs) responding to the challenges of the new coronavirus and what is their experience in implementing activities across the country?

Localization in a period of disruption

Most CSOs, FBGs and POs are also affected by the impact of COVID-19 in terms of access to funding and even mobilizing people at the community level. The minimum health standards required by government and overall lockdown and community quarantine protocols present a unique dilemma, as these not only restrict access and mobility to engage people and provide the usual lifesaving support, but also put the staff and volunteers in greater danger. Most field front-line community organizations cannot afford to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), except for facemasks which they are forced to use for two to three days due to lack of supplies and delays in delivery.

Though a constraint, this has not stopped a consortium of CSOs/POs and the massive networks of the Church dioceses across the country from keeping their programmes up and running at the community level, including those areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as well as from accessing hard to reach areas or those considered as geographically isolated locations. It is their strong and established relationship with local government and the community that has enabled the flexibility and mobility necessary to engage affected people despite the stringent implementation of movement restriction protocols.

The activation of the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER), a locally led fundraising platform for humanitarian response, was able to raise PhP 500,000 (US$10,000). with this modest initial amount, local humanitarian partners were able to support 1,400 informal family settlers (IFS) in Navotas City North bay Boulevard in Metro Manila. Majority of the recipients are daily wage earners severely affected by the ECQ. Despite the lockdown imposed across the country and limited time to mobilize in-country resources, SAFER was able to raise a minimum amount coming from donations from various individuals and other private networks or groups. Once additional funding is secured from core partners, SAFER will resume and look to expand its provision of in-kind donations and food kits.

“We are still in the process of continuous fundraising since our main goal is to support IFS in the National Capital Region and other affected local communities across the country. It’s really tough for us since despite what we’ve accomplished in the previous response, SAFER has to compete with big foundations and established big organizations to access funding. So, we continue to appeal to big companies, corporations and foundations to maximize our platform as we have a proven record in dealing with emergencies and maximizing partners and networks at the local level”, said Alaine Figueras, Program Director of SAFER.

SAFER is supported by Caucus of Development Non-Government Organization (CODE-NGO), People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDDRN), National Secretariat for Social Action Center (NASSA), and Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC). For COVID19 response, it is directly working with POs based in Metro Manila such as Aksyon sa Kahandaan sa Kalamidad at Klima (AKKMA) and Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Maralitang Navoteño Foundation Inc. (NLMNF).

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Risk Communications and Community Engagement on COVID-19 in the Philippines

Humanitarian partners are assisting with communicating with the public, engaging with communities, local partners and other stakeholders to share information and awareness of COVID-19. For more information on the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, click here.

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Photo Essay: Waiting for the Smoke to Clear

About 70 km south of Manila, the Taal Volcano had remained dormant for more than 40 years and was known as a picturesque weekend destination for residents of the capital city of the Philippines. But on Sunday the 12 January 2020, Taal erupted suddenly and spectacularly, sending thousands of people fleeing from a massive ash cloud that blanketed the countryside with a thick layer of volcanic dust, while a series of earthquakes signaled the movement of magma beneath the surface and raised serious concerns for a potentially catastrophic explosive eruption.

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