By Necephor Mghendi and Afrhill Rances in Manila
As tropical storm Nesat (locally known as ‘Pedring’) approaches the Philippine island of Luzon, memories are still fresh for residents of Isabela and Aurora provinces of the back-to-back typhoons, Ketsana and Parma, which devastated the same area exactly two years ago. The twin typhoons brought a record amount of rainfall and the ensuing flooding killed almost 1,000 people, and rendered thousands more homeless.
Two years on, Dominador Garcia, a 54-year old father of four, recalls the day typhoon Ketsana swept in. “Flood water came like fire and engulfed our village, sweeping everything in its way,” he says. He was lucky to save a few essential items and documents. “Some of my neighbors saved nothing but the clothes they were wearing that day.”
Through a recovery operation supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has ensured that Dominador’s family and more than 3,500 others that were displaced by the September 2009 typhoons now have homes.
“When I got this house, it felt like I had won the lottery,” Dominador says. His new home is at Baliuag municipality in Bulacan, approximately 54km from the capital, Manila. “Before Ketsana destroyed our shack that stood on a riverbank in Hagonoy, I would never have dreamt of living in a place like this,” he adds.
Dominador also received a grant worth 7,000 Philippine pesos (145 Swiss francs) to start up a livelihood project. “I put down a deposit for a brand new tricycle that I now use to transport students to and from school. ” It brings him at least 200 Philippine pesos (4 Swiss francs) each day, enough to cover his essential household expenses.
The PRC has installed 21 communal water supply points, and constructed or rehabilitated water and sanitation facilities for 30 schools that were affected by the typhoons. It has also constructed washing areas, a drainage system and supported the creation of a road network at the largest single settlement that it has developed for 1,100 families in Antipolo, Rizal – some 25km east of Manila – with funding from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection (ECHO) fund.
“By supporting the resettlement of people who used to live in areas at risk of environmental disruptions and providing them with other services such as water and sanitation systems, we have helped to rebuild not just homes, but safer communities,” says Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the PRC.
Improved access to water and sanitation facilities in local schools has also meant that that rebuilt communities have the capacity to accommodate evacuees in the event of future disasters. Should local authorities in Rizal enforce evacuation measures in the face of a looming disaster, residents of the new settlement at Antipolo would evacuate to the nearby Sumilang Elementary School which has been rehabilitated by the Red Cross.
Meanwhile, the recovery operation has entered its final phase. Construction of 400 homes is underway and 200 more are planned. “Remembering the events of two years ago brings back painful memories, but it also soothes and gives a sense of hope to see how survivors have gradually rebuilt their lives,” says Gwendolyn Pang.