At a glance: Philippines

Well prepared, children and families weather the storm in Quezon City, Philippines

 By Andy Brown

With another typhoon threatening to bring another major disaster, families in the Philippines braced themselves for the worst. Luckily the storm diminished in strength, but a big part of reducing damage and saving lives was also that communities were prepared.

QUEZON CITY, Philippines, 9 December 2014 – Typhoon Hagupit, known locally as Ruby, passed south of Manila overnight on Monday 8 December. The eye of the storm missed the city, but there was plenty of rain and wind, carrying with it flood risks, in particular for communities living on flood plains near the river.

© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Brown
Elna Cirilo with Nicole, 6, and Cyrus, 5, at Barangay Bagong Silangan evacuation centre in Quezon City

In Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City (part of Metro Manila), an evacuation centre was set up in a covered court on the hillside above a flood plain. By 4 p.m., it was already starting to fill up with women and children who arrived early with a few possessions to claim a space on the mats in the centre of the court. Barangay staff were preparing food for evacuees, and the Health Department had set up a small clinic to do medical check-ups.

Elna Cirilo, 31, had just arrived with her two children Nicole, 6, and Cyrus, 5. She was eight months pregnant with her third child. “We came here to get away from danger and to be secure,” she said. “My husband stayed behind to guard the house, but if the flood waters rise, he’ll come and join us here.”

Elna and her husband grow and sell vegetables for a living, earning around 100 pesos a day (US$2.25). They don’t pay rent on their home, but they still struggle to get by and sometimes can’t afford to send their children to school. “Our house has already flooded three times before,” Elna said. “I’m very worried, but there’s nothing I can do.”

Nicole was too shy to talk to visitors but Cyrus shared his views on the situation. “I’m doing okay,” he said. “I’m afraid of the storm, but I’m happy that my friends are here and we’ll have something to eat.”

Just after 5 p.m., a barangay worker updated information on a whiteboard to show that there were 77 families and 370 individuals in the evacuation centre. Outside, it was getting dark, and the rain was increasingly heavy. People walked down the road under umbrellas, carrying their valuables and heading for the evacuation centre.

Disaster risk reduction

That Elna and her family were safe and secure in advance of the storm’s arrival was largely a testament to the disaster risk reduction and preparedness plans of Quezon City Government. Having learned the lessons of Typhoon Haiyan last year, the preparations, evacuation and humanitarian response for this typhoon have been exemplary across the Philippines. 

© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Brown
Quezon City Administrator Aldrin Cuna leads a strategy meeting in the typhoon control centre at Quezon City Hall.

Earlier in the day, Quezon City Administrator Aldrin Cuna was in the control room at Quezon City Hall with colleagues from each government department. Around City Hall, emergency workers were catching a few hours’ sleep on mats, chairs and even in stairwells. “We’ve been waiting for Ruby to arrive tonight,” Aldrin said with a smile. “We deployed most of our boats and vehicles to flood-prone areas on Saturday, but we have a few left here and emergency staff on standby to go out wherever needed.”

Aldrin explained what the city government was doing for at-risk communities, including setting up evacuation centres for people living in flood-prone areas near the river. “These are mainly slum districts,” he said. “The barangay councils are already going round asking people to move to the evacuation centres. Sometimes people don’t want to leave their homes and possessions. They’re afraid of looting, or that they may not be able to return. But their lives are more valuable.”

Quezon City Government has been working with UNICEF on child-friendly spaces and disaster risk reduction, including a twinning programme with other local governments in the Philippines. Since Typhoon Haiyan, Quezon has been mentoring three municipalities in the Tacloban area. “We’re encouraging them to take natural hazards and vulnerabilities into consideration in urban planning and reconstruction, and to consider alternative livelihoods for relocated families,” Aldrin explained.

The worst is over

In the event, the storm passed by Quezon City with minimal damage. There was some overnight flooding in houses near the river, but by mid-afternoon most families had left the evacuation centre, and the rest were packing up their belongings and getting ready to go home. Compared to the night before, there was a visible sense of relief on people’s faces. 

© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Brown
Dr. Joselito Paulino gives Elna and her children a medical check-up at the evacuation centre.

Joselito Paulino, the health centre doctor assigned to the barangay, was pleased with how things had gone. “We’ve been here all night,” he said. “We fed people, did check-ups and gave out medication. I saw 98 patients during the storm. Most of them had acute respiratory tract infections. Some of these were existing conditions, but the stormy weather made them worse. We’ll follow up with them again in three days.”

Elna and her children were tired but happy to be going home. “It was okay spending the night here, but it was hot and crowded, and I couldn’t sleep well,” Elna said. “I spoke to my husband this morning, and he said the water rose to knee height in the middle of the night. But it’s already gone back down, so it’s safe for us to return.”

Cyrus and Nicole were also looking forward to going home and seeing their father. “I want to read a book when we get back,” Cyrus said. “I don’t mind which one – any book will do.” 



UNICEF Photography: Typhoon Haiyan: One year later


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