Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines – Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation – marked Christmas on Saturday without homes, adequate food and water, electricity and mobile phone connections, after a typhoon left at least 375 people dead earlier this month.
Before Typhoon Rai hit on December 16 – devastating mostly central island provinces – millions of Filipinos had been returning to shopping malls, public parks and churches, as a September surge in Covid-19 cases eased.
Arthur Yap, governor of hard-hit Bohol province, where more than 100 people died in the typhoon and about 150,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, on Saturday asked foreign aid agencies for help.
He requested temporary shelters and water filtration systems to supplement Philippine government aid.
Mr Yap said Christmas celebrations were subdued in the aftermath of the typhoon.
“I refuse to believe that there’s no Christmas spirit today among our people. They’re conservative Catholics. But it’s obviously very muted. There is overwhelming fear, there are no gifts, there were no Christmas Eve dinners, there is none of that today,” he said.
Mr Yap said he was happy that Filipinos in other parts of the country could celebrate Christmas more safely due to the drop in Covid cases, but pleaded: “Please don’t forget us.”
In Manila, which was not hit by the typhoon, worshippers were able to return to churches on Christmas, although they were required to wear masks and practise social-distancing.
Earlier in the week, Mr Yap had pleaded on radio for the government to quickly send food and other aid, warning that without outside help, soldiers and police would have to be deployed to prevent looting.
He said he could no longer provide rice and other food aid after his contingency fund ran out and that many of the 1.2 million people in his island province – which remained without power and mobile phone services five days after the typhoon – had become increasingly desperate.