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.

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 balita.ph 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.

DEVC125-Zipagan3

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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