In the Philippines, securing clean water in the aftermath of Typhoon Bopha
"From experience, we know that, immediately after destructive storms and flash floods, damage to water sources can lead to water shortage and contamination. For UNICEF, this immediately triggers concerns for the health of families – especially children – as dirty water can bring diarrhoea outbreaks, as well as other water-borne diseases.”
Tim Grieve, UNICEF Philippines Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
By Angela Travis
COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines, 11 January 2013 - In the days after Typhoon Bopha had passed, UNICEF joined the Government of the Philippines in carrying out rapid assessments in the most affected areas of eastern and southern Mindanao. It immediately became clear that water and sanitation were a problem, with many homes and water sources damaged, destroyed or contaminated.
UNICEF immediately dispatched pre-positioned water and hygiene kits, as well as materials for constructing temporary latrines.
Reaching vulnerable groups first
Once the supplies had been dispatched, UNICEF had to ensure that systems were in place on the ground for ordered distributions of the kits, in line with the organization’s human rights principles.
“If systems are not in place, bringing in supplies can be ineffective, with the strongest and fittest often benefitting in distributions – and, often, dignity is compromised. That’s why we ensured there was registration first, so we could prioritize mothers with young children, as well as other vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, as we know they are at greatest risk from sickness and disease,” explains Mr. Grieve.
Managing the response at the local level
On the ground, it is local government officials like Sanitary Inspector for Compostela town Arvin Catienza who are managing the response on a daily basis.
Mr. Catienza explains how he is keeping a close eye on the evolving situation: “My main job is to ensure the safety of water, and that’s why the HypoSol [a water-sanitizing solution, supplied by UNICEF] is useful, to prevent the spread of diseases like diarrhoea. Every day at 7 a.m., I go to the gym, as there are lots of people living there.”
Showing the stress of the past weeks, he adds, “We really do our best as part of our job in the provincial sanitation team, but we really need community participation. I can’t juggle all the work. So far, people have been cooperative, and it’s running quite well. There have been cases [of diarrhoea], but it’s not enough to cause an outbreak.”
Measures against outbreaks
According to UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist Michael Emerson Gnilo, “When evacuation centres become homes for large numbers, for extended periods, there is often a problem with insufficient or dysfunctioning toilets and hand-washing facilities. This can lead to open defecation and other poor hygiene practices, which is a risk especially to children who live and play in the same areas.”
UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization and the Philippine Department of Health, is carefully monitoring reported cases of diarrhoea. In addition, to ensure quick response in the event of a diarrhoea outbreak, UNICEF has dispatched 150 boxes of oral rehydration salts to partners.
UNICEF, working with NGO partners, has constructed over 147 latrines in Compostela Valley towns and in the devastated coastal villages of Davao Oriental.