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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Three Months After Typhoon Yolanda, Rehabilitation Plans Still Unclear

When Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, it made sure to make an impact. Those affected the most were the ones that were the most vulnerable to start with.

Iris Santos*, 21 years old, is living alone with her 6 month old son in Barangay Canlampay, Carigara, Leyte when Typhoon Yolanda came. Her husband, a jeepney conductor in Manila, was not there to witness the gushing rain and turbulent winds. Up until today, he has not been able to go home due to financial constraints. For his return would mean the loss of the only income the family receives. Their house, made of light materials, was not able to withstand the typhoon and collapsed. They have since lived in a makeshift hut, made of whatever materials they could find to put together. Relief drive operations help them through, being their only source of food.

The situation is not much different for Anna Cruz*, aged 42. Her house was totally damaged as well after Typhoon Yolanda came. She and her husband were not able to put up a makeshift hut immediately and thus had to transfer from one relative’s house to another. The number of houses they found themselves in totaled to 4. She has two 2 year old grandchildren totally dependent on her after her daughter left them just two months after giving birth. Both are malnourished having only taken “am” or rice stock instead of their mother’s milk.

Barangay Canlampay, Carigara, Leyte is a farming community with 903 inhabitants. They plant rice in the fields and rely on copra, dried coconut meat used in the extraction of coconut oil, for their source of income. Like most families, Iris and Anna are also dependent on relief goods to survive. The vegetable garden and coconut trees that once helped feed them were all destroyed by the typhoon.

When asked what kind of help they have received from the government, they say that they have received nothing yet. The relief goods are all from private organizations. They have heard no plans, whatsoever, on the rehabilitation efforts for Barangay Canlampay. They do not know what will become of them. They wonder if the government even stops to think of them as more than just one number in the statistics.

Both are faces that represent what millions of other Filipinos are experiencing after Typhoon Yolanda. The air of uncertainty lingers as to what the steps will be taken to enable the survivors to stand on their own again.

*Not her real name.

Photo by Zdian of Learn CENE

Carigara farmers getting back on their feet

When Typhoon Yolanda left the country, it left a trail of devastation. It swept away loved ones, homes and the source of income of many Filipinos, especially in hard hit areas of Leyte and Samar. Despite the vast amounts and different kinds of international and local aid given, the national government’s reaction has been slow. Now, three months after the disaster, not much has changed.

Barangay Canlampay, for example, is a farming community in Carigara, Leyte. According to Guillermo Panal, Canlampay’s Barangay Captain, when Typhoon Yolanda struck, 95% of the homes were totally damaged, brought down by a combination of strong winds and weak construction materials. Their sources of income were affected as well, with the winds damaging and uprooting the coconut trees and the floods engulfing their fields.

Today, the community is still dependent on relief goods for food. There is no clear rehabilitation plan or action from the higher government. All they have received are 10 blankets and tarpaulins for the whole barangay of 903 individuals. They still await when promises of gaining electricity and the rehabilitation of the coconut trees would be fulfilled.Delia Darantinaw, president of the Municipal Farmers’ Association of Carigara (MUFAC), is critical of the situation.

“It would have been more difficult for us to recover from the tragedy if we depended on the national government alone. Our association has taken the lead in rebuilding what we had lost. Through empowering the community, pushing them in taking an active role in planning and implementation of programs, and reaching out to non-government organizations for support”, she stated.

The MUFAC is busy trying to implement their irrigation and vegetable garden programs to help the community produce their own food again. Preparation of the plains is in progress. Fast growing vegetables, such as gabi or taro and sweet potato, are encouraged to be grown in home gardens to help the community get by without having to eat only relief goods. Helping out each other is what the organization stresses, especially in times of disaster.

However, Darantinaw said they need farming tools, animals and seeds. They have repeatedly asked the local government of Carigara for assistance but the municipality has yet to heed their requests for these. They appealed to organizations and individuals to help them get back on their feet through supporting their sustainable agriculture rehabilitation plans.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fourth SOS Medical Mission Pushes Through Despite Stormy Weather

True to its pledge, the Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) continues to serve victims of Typhoon Yolanda. Paving past the cold and rain, the 4th SOS team goes through bridges engulfed by overflowing rivers. The 4th SOS medical mission, scheduled from January 17-21, 2014, will be conducted in Carigara, Leyte and neighboring municipalities.

The stormy weather in Leyte and Samar have made matters worse for victims of Typhoon Yolanda, as basic necessities such as food, water, presence of electricity, livelihood and a decent house still pose as daily problems. This has also made things more difficult for medical missions and relief operations since the weather has rendered the temporary ceasing of operations of the Matnog Port, where trucks traveling to Leyte and Samar pass through. The SOS truck, for example, has not been able to leave on time for the scheduled mission. Aside from the family packs for 2000 households, construction materials and seedlings needed for the relief drive operations, it also carries medicines and medical equipment for the medical missions.

Despite these circumstances, the SOS team decided to push through with the originally planned schedule for the medical mission, while the relief drive operations will ensue once the Matnog Port operates again. Medicines and medical equipment needed were instead boarded in the airplane so as to reach Leyte. The 33-man team is composed of 4 doctors, 5 nurses, 6 senior behavioral science students, 2 social workers, 1 video documenter and staff members from partner organizations. These organizations include the Bridge Builder Foundation, Council for Health and Development, Community Medicine Foundation, Health Empowerment and Action in Leyte and Samar, Health Municipal Partners Association of Carigara, Learn- CENE, Municipal Farmers’ Association of Carigara, and University of the Philippines-Manila Department of Behavioral Science. Local officials in Barangay Calampay in Carigara, Leyte have welcomed the team, acting as hosts for the whole duration of the medical missions.

An estimated 500 patients are expected to be served on the first day of the mission. Psychosocial activities will also be conducted for children in the morning and, women and the elderly in the afternoon. More updates will be given as the mission ensues. ##

Thursday, January 9, 2014

DOH’s Poor Handling of Measles Outbreak: Telling Signs of Looming Health Disaster to Come in Typhoon Ravaged Areas of Leyte and Samar

“The recent measles outbreak and the government’s poor response in containing it appeared to be a very fearful precedent of other possible health disasters in typhoon ravaged areas of Leyte and Samar”, said Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) President Rosalinda C. Tablang.

 The year 2013 ended with a sharp increase in the number of measles cases, especially in Metro Manila. Of the 1,724 confirmed cases, 744 were recorded in the metropolitan region. Outbreaks have already been announced by the Department of Health (DOH) in 9 cities of Metro Manila, namely Manila, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Taguig and Valenzuela.

 The DOH has blamed the poor access of health services in poverty-stricken areas, unwillingness of parents in vaccinating their children and the influx of people from typhoon hit areas of Leyte and Samar to the recent outbreak.

Tablang shared that the DOH has the mandate to abate, control and monitor public health.  The DOH implemented the foreign-assisted ten-year “Alis Tigdas” Program from 1990 to 2008. But in 2007, the DOH already admitted that it failed to reach one hundred percent target to immunize children against measles.  In July 2011, it re-launched another anti-measles program “Iligtas ang Pinas Sa Tigdas” aiming again towards measles eradication.

“One would ask, what have the government decisively done with the measles problem if they have known the problem as early as 2007? The past anti-measles programs were just all hype and relied heavily on an approach that is immunization-focused.   Health education and information are lacking,” furthered Tablang

“Instead of owning up to its failure, the DOH has been quick to blame the patients and their parents, and even the very victims of Typhoon Yolanda for the recent outbreak. This is telling of how the DOH will react to other threats of health disasters, such as what we are seeing now in Leyte and Samar”, added Tablang.

The SOS has been conducting medical missions and relief distribution operations since November 2013. Ailments observed in patients from the first medical mission up to the most recent have been similar. The most common medical cases in adults include upper respiratory tract infections, acute gastro-enteritis and hypertension and tension headache. For children, these were cough and colds, fever and diarrhea.

Tablang expressed that outbreaks after natural disasters occur when there is a substantial displacement of people. Along with this, poor access to basic needs, such as safe potable water, proper sanitation, adequate shelter and health care services, play a role in increasing disease transmission.

“More than 2 months after the typhoon struck, scarcity of necessities, such as food, potable water and shelter, still pose as an everyday problem. With the DOH poorly handling the measles outbreak, especially in Metro Manila where there are relatively more health centers and hospitals, we can only imagine how it will be for those in Leyte and Samar.” ##

Monday, January 6, 2014

SOS Continues Typhoon Yolanda Response

 You may read the SOS Newsletter Issue 3 here or
or download it here

Nearly two months after Typhoon Yolanda battered 12,129 barangays in the country’s 44 provinces, 57 cities, 591 municipalities in Regions IV-A, IV-B, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas,Northern Mindanao, Davao Region and CARAGA, remain essentially the same. With victims of the super typhoon still facing Nearly two months after Typhoon Yolanda battered 12,129 barangays in the country’s 44 provinces, 57 cities, 591 municipalities in Regions IV-A, IV-B, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas,Northern Mindanao, Davao Region and CARAGA, remain essentially the same. With victims of the super typhoon still facing hunger, homelessness, economic dislocation and joblessness the Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) continues its efforts to help them recover.

The third batch of relief and medical missions were conducted in three municipalities of Eastern Samar-- Quinapondan, Giporlos and Balangiga. A total of 75 people joined the relief and medical mission. They were divided into two medical mission teams and one relief distribution team. There were four doctors, five nurses, three medical interns, two psycho-social therapists, health workers and non-health volunteers from Manila, Leyte-Samar, Southern Mindanao Region, United States of America and Canada.

Like in the last two missions, affected population in far-flung barangays outside the town centers who have received few or no relief and medical assistance were chosen for the medical missions. A total of 1,121 patients from 14 barangays in the municipality of Giporlos (455 patients); Barangays Kalian and Anislag in the municipality of Quinapondan (179 patients); and, Barangays Cansumangkay and Ginmayuhan in the municipality of Balangiga were served. The most common medical cases included upper respiratory tract infections, acute gastro-enteritis and hypertension, tension headache among adults; and fever, diarrhea, cough and colds among children. These ailments were also observed in the first and second waves of SOS medical missions in Eastern, Western Samar and Leyte provinces.

Twelve psycho-social therapy sessions among children and mothers in the selected barangays of Quinapondan, Giporlos and Balangiga were conducted by the mission team. There were nine therapy sessions for children and 3 therapy batches for mothers, benefitting a total of 550 children and 150 mothers. The psycho-social team effectively made use of play therapy (for children and adults), experience sharing and exercise methods (for adults) to help them process what they have gone through with Typhoon Yolanda. Eleven individuals were provided psycho-social counseling. The relief drive operations on the
other hand, benefitted 2,376 families from 13 selected barangays in the towns of Quinapondan, Giporlos, and Balangiga. They were able to receive relief packs, clothes, plastic sheets, building materials like nails, saw, and hammers. The mission team also gave hundreds of Christmas Goodies Packs for children. Six water filtration pails were given to representatives of the barangays in the towns of Giporlos and Balangiga.

As in the previous relief and medical missions, health risks such as the lack of potable water supply, lack of electricity, nails and pointed objects in debris that could lead to disease outbreaks and accidents were noted. The number of diagnosed diarrhea cases among children and cases of acute gastroenteritis among adults proved the risk of a possible disease outbreak. Most people in affected barangays are trying to rebuild their homes and lives. Yet many barangays especially those far from town centers are still in need of assistance, food, supplies, and construction materials. The affected families shared their hopes that they may be assisted in repairing/reconstructing their homes and in regaining their lost livelihood especially in starting up food production and their fishing activity. People’s participation in planning and actual implementation in relief and rehabilitation efforts is important to ensure relevance of relief efforts and medical services. SOS thus maintains and reiterates the following recommendations: 

1. Government’s relief and medical assistance should include far-flung barangays. Many communities especially those located in the upland received very little assistance while many shared that they have not received any assistance at all.

2. There is a great need to provide assistance for people to rebuild theirhomes and communities, through provision of construction materials including GI sheets, nails, hammer, saw, etc. The government should reconsider the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) program of selling GI sheets that is beyond the capacity of the affected population.

3. Immediate and comprehensive health interventions to address potential sources of outbreaks and epidemics. These include immediate clearing of debris, provision of safe/potable water source, construction of shelter, provision/ assistance in food production and livelihood.

4. Assistance for livelihood and rehabilitation- livelihood, food production and economic activities. ##