Better safe than sorry: Los Baños prepares for calamities, disasters

by: Mary Joy Grefaldo

Looks like the town of Los Baños is not taking any risks to go in deep water—literally.

With the announcement of the plan to construct a multi-purpose evacuation center during the celebration of International Women’s Month last March 1, the local government unit (LGU) of Los Baños, in coordination with line agencies, is setting its gears to prepare for calamities and disasters.

According to Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Office (MDDRMO), the preparation includes the recent procurement of tools and equipment for water safety and is part of the LGU’s goal to mitigate the impact of calamities and improve the people’s capabilities to respond in times of emergency.

Los Baños in the face of calamity

Situated near the Laguna Lake and surrounded by rivers and creeks, the town of Los Baños is prone to flooding especially during typhoons. Among the barangays most vulnerable to flooding are Tadlac, Lalakay, Baybayin, Mayondon, Malinta, and Bambang.

READ: 600 residente sa Los Baños, Laguna, nagpalipas ng magdamag sa evacuation centers 

Because these climatic hazards inflict serious damage to lives and property, community leaders prioritized enhancing response and rescue operations and the capacity of evacuation centers to accommodate locals in times of need.

“Talagang ang number one concern ng LGU [kapag may kalamidad] ay ilikas ang mga tao,” said Tom Boas, barangay councilor of Brgy. Baybayin. “Kung kailangan naming buhatin [ang mga tao], bubuhatin namin.”

 Equipping leaders and citizens

In April, representatives from each barangay attended a five-day training seminar in Albay about camp management in order to equip leaders with needed skills for emergency situations, such as crowd control and search and rescue.

“Nakapila talaga sa plan of activities natin ang camp management training para at least, ‘yung mga ilalagay natin doon ay well-trained at alam kung paano isupervise ang isang camp area,” said Cynthia Quintans, MDRRM officer.

Camp management, based on the global camp coordination and camp management cluster site, involves the “coordination of assistance and services at the level of a single camp.” It aims to secure provisions of basic needs as food, shelter, and clothing and also ensure protection of the camp population.

Camp is a collective term for the group of displaced persons and refugees as a result of natural disaster or human conflict.

Locally, the LGU holds short training courses on first aid as well as on response and rescue for both leaders and interested individuals. Also, the MDRRMC regularly runs fire and earthquake drills in different parts of the municipality to train the people, especially the young, of what to do during  such unforeseen events.

Funding for these projects come from the calamity fund by the LGU allocated to cover aid, relief, and related programs and services for communities affected by disasters—both natural and manmade.

According to Boas, training the people is just as important — if not more— in preparing for calamities.

“Kailangan na kailangan na matrain sila. ‘Di naman naming sinasabi na kailangan laging may training personnel sa barangay, kundi kailangan kasama sila [sa paghahanda],” he said.

In case of urgent situations, the municipality keeps an updated list of teams and committees composed of community members and officials with their predetermined tasks and roles before, during, and after the evacuation take place.

How do the people and barangay leaders plan to respond when there is a threat of a natural calamity?

Preparing ahead of time is key, said Joben Manarpaac, barangay captain of Bayog.

“Kami naman ay nakaready kasi kapag naman may ganiyang sakuna, meeting agad ‘yun,” he shared, “Kung anuman yung mga kailangan, mga kakailanganin, piniprepare na agad namin bago pa man dumating yung mga sakuna.”

Prioritizing safety through sanitation 

Asked about the biggest problem the barangays faced during recent calamities, the officials of Brgy. Bayog agreed on the grave impact of flood and typhoons on health and sanitation.

Councilor Wenceslao Tandang shared: “Mostly mga trabaho dito ay mga mangingisda…yung mga kabuhayan, pagmalakas ang bagyo, talagang totally damaged…Pati yung mga septic tanks lubog din.”

READ: Spread awareness, not the germs: Encouraging people to stop using shared toilets and have their own

Municipal sanitation officer Wilson Gascon confirmed this growing problem on septic tanks and added that even the facilities of school, the priority place for evacuation, have problems in keeping up with the sudden flock of evacuees.

Pagdating sa toilets, ‘yung pinakaseptic tank ay para sa mga estudyante o sa school lang. Noong time ng baha, lalo na sa mga shoreline na barangay, ‘yun ang problema. Talagang bumaha…” he said.

He also addressed the growing concern of potential outbreaks of waterborne diseases at evacuation centers.

Records show that upper respiratory track infection and influenza are among the common health problems during evacuation times. At the onset of a flooding, the office takes extra precautionary measures to monitor the potential of leptospirosis in the area.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that could infect both human and animals. According to the Department of Health (DOH), in humans, the infection could be transmitted through contact of wounds with floodwaters, vegetation, moist soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals, especially rats.

In January this year, the DOH boosted its campaign against leptospirosis after several cases were confirmed in the Mimaropa region.

Another issue that was thrust into discussion was the concern about the supply and safety of water in some evacuation areas.

Minsan kasi, siyempre naapektuhan din sila [schools] ng bagyo. Nagkacut naman talaga ng water diba? Pero yun po yung ina-augment ng munisipyo…,” Quintans explained, then shared about the ways the LGU are trying to address the solutionsngayon meron na tayong pwedeng isupply dahil meron na tayong water purifier na pwedeng magsupply ng tubig kapag po nagkaroon ng disaster at magkakaproblema sa inuming tubig.”

Gascon also  expressed approval of the proposed way to resolve the matter.

“Ngayon naman meron na tayong mobile water refilling station. In case na merong ano ulit [emergency, ready na. Mappprovide-an din natin ng safe na tubig ang mga evacuees,” he said.

Room for improvements

The local government has been putting premium on funding programs to lessen the impact of calamities to lives and properties, confirmed the MDRRMO.

Recent reports showed that through the help of various sectors and line agencies in carrying out projects, considerable improvements in the tools, equipment, supplies, and materials have been made available to the community.

“Marami pa rin kaming kailangang iimprove na mga bagay,” Quintans admitted. “Dito na lang sa office, kailangan pa naming maglagay ng additional tools equipments and supplies.”

She also added that the office has yet to strengthen its information and education campaigns among the people in the community, especially among the youth.

Regarding the sanitation concerns in evacuation centers, Gascon cited the lack of health personnel who could immediately respond to people’s sanitation needs during emergency as major point for improvement.

He shared that most staff in the MHO carries out multiple roles; he alone, aside from his stint as a sanitation inspector, provides nursing assistance and does secretarial works in the health center.

At the barangay level, leaders request for increase in material provisions such as additional beddings and relief goods. Maintaining cleanliness inside the classroom is also one of the key areas for discussion.

Manarpaac, however, admitted that the greater challenge they face during rescue and response operations is encouraging people to leave their houses and stay at the evacuation centers.

Alam niyo sa totoo lang, ang pinakamahirap dito ay hikayatin ang mga nasa delikadong lugar na umalis na lalo’t ganiyan na masama ang panahon, talagang pinipilit na naming lumikas…” he said.

As part of addressing these solutions, Gascon suggested that open communication among the people, the health office, as well as the local government units and other line agencies, would be of great help.

“Ang kailangan diyan talaga, tao yung nagmomonitor din kung yung mga pangangailangan nila naibibigay sa kanila o kung may pagkukulang sa side natin, iadvise din kami,” he said.