Clearing The Way For Disaster Preparedness

The Municipality of Pila in Laguna province often experiences flooding, and one of the reasons for this was the area’s clogged tributaries. After Typhoon Ondoy severely affected the Philippines in September 2009, the local government unit (LGU) of Pila, with support from WFP, took proactive steps to help their community mitigate the impact of future natural disasters.

Edgardo Sababan, resident of Pila, recalls his family’s experience during Typhoon Ondoy, and shares how in August 2012, in the face of heavy and persistent rainfall, the LGU's and WFP’s joint efforts successfully kept the floodwaters at bay.

Edgardo Sababan lives with his wife and five children in Barangay (village) Labuin in Pila, Laguna. To provide for their daily needs, Edgardo drives a motorcycle sidecar taxi, locally known as a tricycle, which he supplements with periodic construction work when the opportunity arises. His wife, Edna, manages their family’s sari-sari store, located in front of their house. The couple earns roughly PhP500 (or USD12) every day.

The family’s livelihood is particularly vulnerable during the rainy season, when the looming threat of flood is always just around the corner. Thus, when Typhoon Ondoy hit the Philippines in September 2009, Edgardo vividly remembers how the water level rose and eventually entered his house. “The water was nearly as high as my knees,” the 45-year old man said, “and it took over a day for it to subside after the rain stopped.”

Typhoon Ondoy inundated the Sababan household – and their community – with floodwater, which affected Edgardo’s job. “The presence of floodwater meant that we could not use our tricycles,” Edgardo explained. “Even after the flood had subsided, business was still slow because a lot of people were staying in evacuation centers and didn’t use tricycles.”

Readiness For Future Calamities

While Typhoon Ondoy is one major disaster that most Filipinos will remember for a long time – the heavy rain it brought caused widespread flooding across the northern island of Luzon, damaging properties and affecting hundreds of thousands of lives – it also served as a catalyst for the LGU of Pila. As a result of their experience with the typhoon, they decided to boost their municipality’s preparedness for future calamities by mitigating the risks associated with known natural hazards and by improving their emergency response management capacity.

In 2011, working closely with the WFP’s Disaster Preparedness and Response (DPR) Programme, the LGU of Pila began to identify factors which contributed to the flooding in their area. One of the factors identified was the existence of clogged tributaries of the Bulusukan River, which at the time were forgotten and unmaintained – most tributaries were filled with solid waste and soil, rendering them useless.

Rehabilitation of the tributaries became the focus of flood mitigation efforts in the community. With support from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s Cash-for-Work programme, community members took an active role in improving their barangay by cleaning up the tributaries. Participants of the programme, including Edgardo’s 22-year-old son, received Php1, 200 (about USD28.4) in exchange for a week’s work, providing a much-needed additional income for the family. In one month the tributaries were cleared of debris, enabling effective drainage of flood waters away from valuable community infrastructure.

In 2012, when Typhoon Saola and the southwest monsoon hit the Philippines in early August, the effectiveness of the tributaries was evident. The Sababan house, along with others in the barangay, did not get flooded. “The water was safely channeled through the canals to Bulusukan River,” Edgardo shares. “Water that accumulated in other areas also subsided faster, only taking a few hours for them to recede. Previously, it took days,” he adds.

Thanks to the LGU, DSWD, and WFP’s disaster preparedness initiatives in Pila, Edgardo’s family and others like them no longer need to worry when rainy season comes. The rehabilitated tributaries and other similar risk mitigation activities reduce the likelihood of flooding in their municipality, thus strengthening their community’s resilience and potentially protecting peoples’ lives and livelihoods from heavy storms.