Dramatic escapes as blaze rips through Philippine shantytown

Updated 12 July 2013
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Dramatic escapes as blaze rips through Philippine shantytown

MANILA: Three hundred homes were destroyed in a fire that tore through a slum in the Philippine capital yesterday, forcing residents to make dramatic escapes, authorities said.
A bare-chested man ran down a narrow, smoke-filled alley just a few minutes walk from the glistening sky-rises of Manila’s financial district.
A neighbor fled by jumping through an upstairs window and sprinting across rusted tin roofs.
Crying children were separated from their parents amid the chaos of adults carrying refrigerators, televisions, pots and pets from their homes.
“We were on the cot lying down, and then people started running. There was smoke everywhere, the place was up in flames,” said a tearful Anna Anciller, 27, on a nearby footpath while the fire was at its peak.
“We just ran. I lost everything,” she said, clutching her six-year-old daughter and breastfeeding her months-old baby boy.
Homes made of scrap wood and plastic sheets crumbled to the ground during the two-hour blaze, as portable cooking gas tanks exploded and the sirens of fire fighting trucks wailed.
The firemen walked onto the roofs of homes not yet ablaze to get their hoses close to the flames, risking a deadly fall.
No-one died but about one third of the 1,000 homes in the slum were destroyed, according to local fire chief Ricardo Perdigon.
While heart-breaking, the scenes at the “Botanical Garden” shantytown are common throughout the vast slums that dominate Manila.
Homes mostly made of salvaged wood and plastic are tinder boxes waiting to be ignited by makeshift electricity networks, cigarettes or gas cooking. An arson investigator said Thursday’s blaze was likely caused by a faulty power outlet.
About 35 percent of the capital’s 14 million population live in slums, according to a 2010 World Health Organization study.
The widespread poverty and brutal conditions in the slums were among the reasons US author Dan Brown described Manila in his latest novel as the “Gates of Hell.”
Authorities have for years tried to relocate slum dwellers away from the city to safer areas, but the vast majority prefer to remain closer to work opportunities.
“There is nowhere else for us to go. There are no jobs in the provinces,” said longtime Botanical Garden resident Jenny San Gaspar, a 38-year-old housewife and mother of 10.
Local politicians also like to keep the slum dwellers in the city to be used as reliable “vote banks” during elections.
And just a few hours after the inferno was extinguished, shirtless men and elderly women were bringing back their salvaged belongings, staking out positions in the blackened ashes to rebuild new homes.


Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

Afghan children fill canisters with water from a water pump outside their temporary homes on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Files/AFP
Updated 27 May 2018
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Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

  • Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought
  • More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces

KABUL: Rain and snow are as important as peace for Afghanistan. But the landlocked and mountainous country this year had its lowest rainfall for years, causing widespread drought and leaving 2 million people facing food shortages.
Livestock in many areas have died, and some farmers have been forced to send their herds for pasture to neighboring Turkmenistan.
Thousands of people have left their homes already due to water shortages, with fears that the situation will worsen in autumn, Afghan and UN officials say.
Twenty of the country’s 34 provinces, including the northern region — Afghanistan’s food basket — have been badly affected, they said.
The aid-reliant Afghan government has begun delivering aid to affected areas. But assistance will be needed for months to come. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said rapid action was needed to enable delivery of food and water. More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces, it said.
“Drought is gripping large parts of Afghanistan, with more than 2 million people expected to become severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance for survival,” OCHA said.
“A quick, comprehensive response will enable the delivery of food and water to the rural villages and help to avoid the migration of families to cities where they risk losing all of their few possessions, and where they lack shelter and access to health facilities and schools for their children,” it said.
Water points and fountains across the country have dried up, and the lack of rain and snow melt has made rivers run low or dry up, the organization said.
About 1.5 million goats and sheep in northeast regions are struggling to find food and more than half of the 1,000 villages in the province are suffering from lack of water.
Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought, limiting communities’ access to markets.
In Helmand, village elders reportedly need to obtain special approval from the armed groups to access markets in areas under government control.
In Uruzgan province, people often cannot access the main market in Tirinkot due to fighting and insecurity on the roads to the provincial capital. Following a temporary closure of the road to neighboring Kandahar province in April due to fighting, wheat prices went up by 50 percent in the city, and the price for fresh produce quadrupled within days.
Engineer Mohammed Sediq Hassani, chief of planning in the government’s Disaster Management Department, said the drought has directly and indirectly taken the lives of dozens of people.

“The impact of drought in terms of taking lives is intangible and slow. An indirect impact can be the recent floods, which claimed the lives of 73 people. Floods happen when there is a drought because of the change of the climate,” he told Arab News.