Families prepare to return home after flooding in Central Luzon, Philippines
© UNICEF Philippines/2011/Santos
16 day old baby Luenard with parents in Bulacan Sports Complex Evacuation Center
By Angela Travis
16 day old Luenard cries out for his mother, whilst his father does his best to comfort him, as she rests.
Baby Luenard was just 10 days old when the floodwaters in Calumpit, Central Philippines rose to neck level, and the family clambered onto their roof to save themselves. Thankfully they were rescued by the Philippine Navy, who were evacuating families in boats. The family managed to grab just a few clothes for the baby and themselves, but had to leave everything else behind. They are now living in the Bulacan sports complex, which temporarily houses around 100 families.
‘We are just glad we are all safe, but we have lost everything’, said father Gilbert, 27. ‘I am a construction worker, and I am worried all my tools are now lost’, he said as he looked down in concern.
Baby Luenard’s mother, Laarni, 28, takes back the baby, and he immediately settles down, comforted by the familiar smell of mother and mother’s milk.
‘Laarni is giving him only breastmilk’, said Gilbert, ‘as we know it’s his best protection against all infections. There was some formula milk handed out, but we won’t be giving it to our baby, as we know breastmilk is the best thing,’ he added.
The flooding was caused by two typhoons which struck the area in quick succession. With additional waters released from nearby dams, the waters rose fast and to date more than eighty people have lost their lives, with many more missing. Some families have chosen to stay in their homes, living on upper floors or even roofs, whilst others are in evacuation centres.
Whilst most of the families in the evacuation centre had their basic needs met, with food, drinking water and decent sanitation facilities available, they were all keen to get back to their homes as soon as possible.
‘ I checked the house yesterday, and the water inside is now knee height, so I hope we can return in 2 or 3 days, and begin the process of putting our lives back together’ said Gilbert.
UNICEF has distributed 3,000 water kits and hygiene kits to the flood affected communities of Bulacan and Pampanga, in Central Luzon Philippines. The kits, containing soap, toothpaste, buckets and other important hygiene supplies are important to help families maintain hygiene habits, and prevent disease spreading, especially among children. The water kits contain water purification solution so families can always have safe drinking water.
Lifesaving supplies are delivered to families in Macabebe, Pampanga, Central Luzon. UNICEF Philippines/2011/Santos
Vanessa Tobin, Country Representative visiting the affected areas observed that the government relief operation was going well, but also issued concern over health issues.
‘Large areas of stagnant water are a danger in many ways: risks of dengue, risks of diarrhea and other infectious diseases are a big threat to young children,’ said Tobin.
‘Hygiene kits save lives. Providing soap for body and handwashing in flooded areas is essential for reducing diarrhea and infectious diseases, which can be life threatening for young children’ said Mr Tim Grieve, UNICEF Philippines, Water and Sanitation Chief. ‘We also have to careful to ensure solid waste is carefully disposed of and toilet facilities remain sanitary, as these can also cause disease outbreaks, which can spread very fast in crowded evacuation centres’ Grieve added.
Some worrying signs are already appearing, with the provincial health officer for Bulacan reporting an increase in diarrhea cases in children in the flooded areas.
Boy, a cheeky 1 yr old, was recovering from a bout of diarrhea, after having been in Calumpit National High School now serving as an evacuation centre for 1 week.
‘We were rescued from the roof of our house by the Philippine Air Force,’ reported his neighbour, Edgardo.
1 yr old Boy recovering from diarrhea in Calumpit Evacuation Centre. UNICEF Philippines/2011/Santos
‘Boy started having diarrhea a few days ago, but luckily we were visited by a team of doctors from the government San Lazaro hospital, and they gave him oral rehydration solution, and he’s better now’, he reported, visibly relieved. Boy munched crackers, and laughed with his siblings, seeming to be much better now.
‘We’ve never seen floods this bad’ added Edgardo, ‘this is worse than in Ondoy’ he said, remembering the tropical storm that submerged central Luzon and Metro Manila two years ago.
As the waters recede, and in the hope that there will be no more storms in the coming weeks, families are beginning to contemplate returning home and putting their lives back together.
But in a predominantly rural area, where much of the agricultural and aqua cultural produce has been destroyed, communities will need assistance to get back on their feet.
Many infants and young children in the Philippines have begun their young lives faced with the terrifying effects of flooding and typhoons in their homes. UNICEF is working to help communities adapt and prepare for such calamities, so that they will be better able to adapt and protect themselves from the devastating impact of climate change and severe weather.
For more updates on UNICEF’s emergency response, visit www.unicef.ph