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Aid workers help flood victims in the Philippines

Unseasonal rains in the Philippines have brought misery to large areas of the eastern coast, causing flooding and landslides in more than 170 towns and 17 cities.

Aid workers in the country say that over 1.7 million people - approximately 350,000 families - have been affected, with large swathes of farmland and many roads submerged. The death toll from the floods has reached 60 people, but with others unaccounted for, this is likely to rise. The eastern province of Albay is the worst-affected area and has been designated a disaster zone.

Evacuations began in December as flood waters rose fast. Over 60,000 people have now left their homes, with water levels reaching rooflines in some districts. Displaced families have been housed in temporary evacuation centres and over 140 teams of volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross have been drafted in to help with the refugees. Red Cross workers are also packing and distributing relief goods to those affected and providing hot meals to families in the crowded evacuation centres. Over 10,000 litres of drinking water is being sent to the refugee sites. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said they were appealing for more support from the public.

The government of the Philippines has already organised the distribution of 200,000 dollars-worth of aid to the flood victims and has sent first-aid kits and other hygiene supplies to affected areas. Damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the region is already estimated to cost around 40 million dollars.

Though flood waters are receding in some places, the weather remains unpredictable. As in Australia, the flooding is being blamed on the La Niña weather phenomenon, which brings cooler sea temperatures and causes higher rainfall along the western Pacific. Other countries badly affected include Brazil and Sri Lanka. A spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization said it was impossible to say if there was any link between the severity of recent weather and climate change.

The Philippines ranks as one of the top ten most afflicted countries in terms of lives and property lost due to severe weather. On average, the country is hit by 20 typhoons each year and the islands are also susceptible to sea level rise and storm surges. Some parts of the country are now better prepared for extreme weather. Warning systems have been set up in certain places and in areas which flood frequently, houses are built on stilts. But with climate change bringing even greater challenges in the future, more work needs to be done to reduce risk to the population and create buildings and infrastructure which cope with regular flooding.

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