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Order of Malta disaster aid focused on 'neglected' victims in Philippines

2013-11-19

More than a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the situation is still dire. As the extent of the storm damage became clearer, foreign aid agencies poured in to the Philippines to begin helping alleviate the suffering of victims.

But Malteser International was already on the ground by the time the storm hit. Ironically, they arrived in the Philippines in 2008, after two other typhoons pummeled the country. Since then, they'd been leading health and risk prevention programs in the poorest areas.

MARINA MOLL
Office of the Grand Hospitalier, Order of Malta (Italy)
"Malteser International has a big advantage that it works in close connection with the Church, and it is a religious order if you like.”

The organization is the disaster relief branch of the Order of Malta. The sovereign Catholic lay organization has diplomatic relations with over 100 countries. That includes the Philippines. 

MARINA MOLL
Office of the Grand Hospitalier, Order of Malta (Italy)
"There is an ambassador who is a great help because, as ambassadors they can facilitate the customs procedures of help that comes in.” 

They have a team of 25 people on the ground, and they've distributed three tons of medicines, so far. But their work is not focused on Tacloban, the coastal city worst affected by the storm.

MARINA MOLL
Office of the Grand Hospitalier, Order of Malta (Italy)
"Malteser International, very often, instead of focusing where everybody else is focusing, tends to take into consideration nearby places which are less accessible but just as badly hit. Which don't get all the interest, and especially, get all the help that's necessary.” 

The reason for this, they say, goes back to their experience with the Asian Tsunami in 2004, and the lessons they learned from their relief efforts. The victims living on the coast got most of the attention, and as a result, most of the help, while the rest were neglected. 

MARINA MOLL
Office of the Grand Hospitalier, Order of Malta (Italy)
"Malteser International discovered, realized, that the people who were immediately behind these, lets say, rich victims, had also been hit badly by the tsunami. Not directly by the waves, but by the consequences. You know, their fields had been flooded, etc... And all of a sudden, they were the poor people, because they actually needed help too. But nobody had thought of helping them.” 
 
To date, Malteser International and the Order of Malta have distributed emergency kits, with food and medicine, to over 1000 families. They work closely, not only with their local affiliate in the Philippines, but also with Caritas and the Catholic Church to coordinate their efforts.

As the emergency relief dwindles, Malteser International will remain in the country for a while. As with other natural disasters, they will also provide psychological help. Most importantly, they will train local people to carry out that work, That way, the help can continue, long after the volunteers are gone.


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