LB prepares for disasters

by: Paulo Luis S. Zipagan

Ensuring health and proper sanitation in evacuation centers should always be one of the priorities of local government units (LGUs) in times of disasters.

As stated in the 2009 World Health Organization Country Office Philippine Health Cluster Situation Report, the top five common diseases in evacuation centers are upper respiratory tract infection, fever, skin disease, infected wounds, and diarrhea. In 2015, DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy in emphasized that these diseases can be easily transferred because evacuation centers are congested.

In Barangay Bayog of Los Baños, for instance, health workers check on evacuees camped in evacuation centers and focus on children. A bridge located a few meters away from the Barangay Hall with tents serves as the barangay’s evacuation center during disasters since it is the only elevated part of the barangay. Rural health workers bring medicine to treat common communicable diseases, such as colds and cough. In such a setting, health management and sanitation could be a challenge, and the local government recognizes this concern.

Responding to the need for sanitary facilities, the local government built temporary toilets within the school compound. The said toilets are located far from classrooms where evacuees stay but are still accessible.

Communicable diseases and sanitation problems abound during disasters, hence the need for quick and proper response from authorities.

Camp management and coordination

The municipal government of Los Baños will be holding a camp coordination and camp management training on the year 2016 for the benefit of barangays. Spearheaded by the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) and the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office (MSWDO), this initiative is a humanitarian assistance that addresses internally displaced people (IDPs) and provides people with their basic needs and rights while they stay in temporary shelters.

Ideally, a camp or evacuation center should provide the basic needs of a person every day, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. In the Draft Manual for Evacuation Camp Management, the WHO standards for evacuation centers is explained. Among such standards include the provision of 20 liters of water per person per day.

Camp leaders step up

Each camp has a designated camp leader whose role it is to ensure that guidelines and needs are addressed. A camp manager can be a barangay tanod, a barangay health worker, or a male or female resident. To be a camp manager, one should have attended a camp management training conducted by the LGU or any designated agency.
A camp manager maintains peace and order within an evacuation center, ensures the protection of evacuees from diseases, and takes steps to provide an evacuation center that is clean and conducive for living.

According to Cynthia Quintans, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer, mothers or even community members may serve as camp managers or leaders because they know the people within their community. According to her, having mothers as camp managers is beneficial owing to the care that mothers are known to give their children. “Maganda na yung mga nanay mismo ang nandoon para macheck at maalagaan yung evacuees,” Quintans said. (It’s good that the mothers are there to check and take care of the evacuees.)

A camp manager is expected to implement rules. The LGU prescribes certain policies with regard to camp management, but the camp manager has the option to completely follow these rules or introduce new ones depending on local conditions.

Among the basic rules are the following:
1. The evacuees are tasked to clean the room (evacuation area)
2. They should maintain cleanliness
3. Things inside the room like chairs and tables should be maintained in good condition
4. Avoid touching or destroying of displays or decorations inside the room/s especially when a class room is used as an evacuation center

Lack of coordination

Unfortunately, not everyone cooperates and obeys the rules in evacuation centers, as seen in destruction of some classroom features after the families leave. There are also residents who do not clean up their designated spaces, such as sleeping areas, and common spaces, such as comfort rooms.

“Yung mga CR hindi nila masyadong name-maintain, tapos pagpasok mo may malansang amoy—s’yemrpe doon sila natutulog, doon sila kumakain”, she narrated. (The CRs are not properly maintained, and when you walk into the classroom, you can smell foul odors–of course this is because families sleep and eat there.)

The lack of cooperation is a major concern that has been brought up by other residents. The camp manager is the one needed to address this problem. He or she is tasked to ensure that evacuees cooperate and abide by the rules applied in that certain evacuation center.

A better, bigger ‘camp’

In the future, cramped spaces and congested evacuation centers will no longer be a problem in this part of Los Banos as a 20-million peso multi-purpose evacuation center will be built this year.

To be located within the area of Barangay Baybayin the new evacuation center is the size of a covered court or basketball court. Its features include a gender-friendly space, children’s space, WASH area, and conjugal area. (Quintans refused to disclose more details about the evacuation center because the process of presenting the design is ongoing.)

According to Barangay Baybayin Kagawad Thomas Josephus Baes, the new evacuation center will face Laguna de Bay. He assured that the area does not get flooded. “Although facing siya sa Laguna Lake, never namang umabot yung tubig doon,” he added. (Although the evacuation center is facing Laguna Lake, the water never reached the part that it will be built.)

In the past, people evacuated to a bridge and a school in Barangay Bayog and a barangay hall in Barangay Baybayin. These two barangays are among the most flood-prone in the municipality.

Once the new evacuation center is ready for use, some schools will not be used as evacuation center especially for barangays near the new evacuation center and a new challenge for camp managers since this is a bigger camp.


Laguna Lake view from Barangay Bayog, one of the most flooded-prone araes in Los Baños. Photo by Paulo Luis Zipagan

Prioritizing disaster preparedness

Disaster preparedness is a priority of the government in both the national and local levels because the Philippines is considered the 4th most disaster prone country in the world, with 274 recorded disasters since 1995 according to the Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters report.

In compliance with the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2013-1 by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Interior and Local Government, the barangay allots 5% of its annual budget to disaster preparations. The fund is used for buying tools and equipment for disaster preparedness and also in food provisions.

In Barangay Baybayin, a Barangay Emergency Response Team was formed. It comprises of different committees, such as those in-charge for evacuation, relief, medical assistance, and warning. Each team has its own tasks and responsibilities when responding to disasters.

According to Baes, the teams immediately prepare after getting information when a typhoon threatens the barangay. “Agad agad kaming nagmi-meeting kapag may ganyan,” he said. (We immediately meet during those times).

To further improve disaster management skills, several representatives from different barangays in Los Banos responded to the call of Albay governor Joey Salceda for a DRRM training held in coordination with the International Rice Research Institute. According to Quintans, attending such a training was necessary for improvements in DRRM in Los Baños.

Among the new skills to be developed in the training is rappelling. Quintans said that rappelling is a skill needed because there are instances or situations wherein people who needed to be evacuated are those that live under a bridge.

Serving the community

In serving the community, Quintans said that one needs a big heart because everything done during disaster response and other forms of community service is on a voluntary basis.

“Dito kasi unang-una kailangan malaki yung puso mo na nandito ka lalo na kapag may disaster regardless of may family ka na dapat isecure though alam mo na secured sila,” Quintans said. (You need to have a big heart during times of disasters regardless of securing your family even though you know they are safe.)

Volunteers, such as camp managers and disaster response teams, do not receive any monetary rewards from the local government yet they continue on serving their fellow community members.

Furthermore, Quintans emphasized that all agencies are anchored to the MDRRMO that is why their response to calamities are systematic.

Sanitation Officer Wilson Gascon of the Municipal Health Office on cooperating during calamities added that “connected naman kami lahat sa LGU. In times na iyon nga, may typhoon tayo, talagang ina-advise na kami ng mayor’s office standby.” (We are all connected to the LGU especially in times of typoon. The Mayor’s office advises as to be on standby)

With all these preparations, the services to be provided in terms of ensuring health and sanitation in evacuation centers is expected to improve now that a camp management training is under its way. This is not only for the benefit of the evacuees but also for the overall DRRM of Los Baños.

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