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UN pushes for shelters after Tacloban tent fire

Paterno Esmaquel II
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees mourns the 'double tragedy' that killed 7 Yolanda survivors, including a 4-month-old baby

WHAT'S LEFT. Six months after Yolanda, tragedy kills the homeless. Photo courtesy of Tacloban City government

MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations (UN) refugee agency pushed for permanent shelters for Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors on Thursday, May 29, after a fire killed 7 tent dwellers in Tacloban City.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the fire that killed a mother and all her 6 children, including a 4-month-old baby, poses a challenge to government and aid workers. (READ: No kid survives Tacloban tent fire)

“This is a double tragedy for the family, to have survived the typhoon only to be killed as they were just starting to rebuild their lives,” said Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR’s Philippine representative.

“This accident is a somber reminder that the authorities and aid agencies need to strengthen existing efforts to sensitize the community on fire safety and mitigation measures, and seek permanent housing solutions for IDPs (internally displaced persons),” Kerblat added.

The fire that killed 7 Yolanda survivors on Wednesday, May 28, brought public attention to millions who remain homeless after Yolanda.

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said around 3,760 Yolanda survivors or 800 families remain in tents, exposed to similar hazards. (READ: 130k Yolanda survivors still live in tents)

The UN Development Programme administrator, Helen Clark, earlier said moving Yolanda survivors out of tents remains a “compelling need.”

‘More responsive’ system needed

TENT TRAGEDY. John Mark Ocenar (left), 7, is treated in a hospital before he dies due to cardiac arrest, says Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez. Photo courtesy of Tacloban City government

In the face of criticisms over alleged government neglect, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said the government mourns the accident that only took 10 minutes to kill 7.

For him, the incident shows the need to examine the safety precautions, emergency responses in case of fire, and a “more responsive” system “to ensure the safety and well-being” of tent-dwellers.

Coloma, however, deflected claims that government neglect led to the tragic incident.

“We must acknowledge the breadth, depth, and complexity of the task at hand, and it would not be responsible to simply blame government because this is something that can be empirically determined,” he said.

Quoting Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson, Coloma pointed out the Yolanda resulted in no “civil disorder,” an epidemic, or even widespread hunger.

‘Yan ang pinaka-fundamental na indicators ng kalidad ng pagtugon natin,” he said. (Those are the most fundamental indicators of the quality of our response.) –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at