By Joe Cropp, IFRC, Manila
Cherry Admana sits in the doorway of her shelter in a Manila evacuation centre, boiling water for her two young children. She knows the dangers of contaminated water, and either buys fresh drinking water or boils the tap water if the family doesn’t have enough money.
“Bottled water is very expensive, and valuable charcoal is needed for other things, such as cooking,” explains Ms. Admana, who has been in the evacuation centre since floodwater completely destroyed her home. “It makes staying healthy difficult.”
It is a challenge repeated around Manila. While the floodwater has receded in most areas, more than 200,000 people are still living in evacuation centres, unable to return home.
The floods, which covered 80 per cent of the capital, destroyed some 3,300 homes and severely damaged another 9,600. Food stocks and household items were not spared by floodwater, leaving some families largely dependent on relief support.
“The health and hygiene situation is of serious concern as skin infections and waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea increase in areas where water is unsafe,” says Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of The Philippine Red Cross.
“Compounding the problem, garbage collection was disrupted, resulting in open dumping in flooded communities. Drainage canals have been clogged and latrines in some communities have been damaged, further polluting the water supply.”
“We are working tirelessly to ensure availability of clean water and proper sanitation in affected communities so as to contribute toward reducing the risk of disease outbreaks,” she says.
To meet the immediate water needs of flood affected communities, the Red Cross is trucking in fresh water supplies, providing water containers to store clean water, and setting up mobile water facilities in evacuation centres.
Complementing these efforts to provide clean water, the Red Cross is deploying volunteers to clean up rubbish, distribute hygiene kits containing key items such as soap and towels, and conduct hygiene education sessions for 10,000 families.
Trained Red Cross health volunteers visit affected communities, where they pass on their skills and knowledge to local volunteers. Each of these volunteers then goes on to educate 30 to 50 families about personal hygiene, the safe use of water, and the importance of using toilets to prevent disease spreading in the crowded evacuation centres.
“The most important resource for health and hygiene education is the community itself,” Ms Pang explains. “Through community engagement we can spread the word about the risks of disease and what people can do to reduce it.”