From Day Zero: Stories from Odette Affected Locales
UNICEF Philippines staff members who were in Bohol and Cebu before Typhoon Odette’s landfall recount the immediate aftermath from the field.
When Typhoon Odette (Rai) hit the Philippines on 16 December 2021, some UNICEF Philippines staff traveling in the affected areas immediately wore their humanitarian hats and hit the ground running. They were ready and among the first to support government and partners to assess impact and reach some of the most affected children and families.
Marysol Astrea “Sol” Balane, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) consultant, was on vacation in Bohol with friends when the category 5 typhoon made landfall. Sol recalled how the night was filled with anxiety as they listened to the strong, howling winds and worried about possible storm surges because of the nearby coast.
Fortunately, Sol and her friends made it through the night unharmed. The aftermath of the typhoon proved to be overwhelming, though. Bohol has since been placed under a state of calamity.
While her friends flew out the next day, Sol stayed put to help in the rapid assessment. She went straight to the Provincial Capitol to get initial data and joined the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office of Bohol in their relief mission to the riverside communities of Loboc, one of the most affected towns. “At that particular time, the main issue was that they were still clearing the roads, and electricity and phone signals were down, especially in northern Bohol. They were having a hard time reaching those places” she recounted.
The sight of damaged houses, toppled vehicles, fallen trees, and collapsed electrical posts greeted them on the way. Residents were also seen rummaging through their possessions to see which ones they can still salvage and dry out.
Based on what she saw firsthand, safe water supply is the most major concern that needs to be addressed. “In Bohol, water pumping stations require electricity to function and without it, they will not be able to supply water to households. They are estimating the electricity to be restored in one to two months’ time. Lack of safe drinking water can lead to dehydration, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene can lead to the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, a leading cause of death among children under five years of age.”
“Lack of safe drinking water can lead to dehydration, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene can lead to the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, a leading cause of death among children under five years of age.”
Aside from safe water, other immediate needs that she and barangay emergency focal points identified, include hygiene kits, food supplies for evacuation centers, essential medicines, shelter repairs, replacement of damaged school supplies, temporary learning spaces, mental health and psychosocial support for children, and livelihood/cash assistance.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring island province of Cebu, Retz Pol Pacalioga, a Health and Nutrition Liaison Consultant in Metro Cebu was waiting for his connecting flight to his hometown Bacolod, when Odette’s strong winds ravished the province. The howling winds rang to his ear like an airplane fast approaching – only that it would go on for four hours.
Retz had been a resident of Cebu before for 6 years but had not seen anything like Odette. He could barely recognize the metro after the typhoon. His colleague shared that in their 45 years in the megacity, they had never experienced blackouts longer than 48 hours.
One of the evacuation centers Retz visited as part of his rapid nutrition assessment was Alaska Elementary School in Mambaling, Cebu City, where around 1,000 evacuees - from a major fire emergency a month before - have been staying since. There were only 5 portalets for all evacuees, installed near piles of waste since there was no proper disposal area on site. Next to it was a makeshift eating area and food preparation station. Aid had been trickling in increments and with the destruction of Odette, going back to their homes now seems like a distant dream.
Retz strongly believes that there is an urgent need to put more sanitation facilities in place in cramped evacuation centers like Alaska. While there were no reports of COVID-19 cases among the evacuees, others had already complained of diarrhoea, skin problems, and toothaches. Even if food came their way, they would still be handling these in the least sanitary of places. Potable water is also scarce and sold at exorbitant prices.
Retz could tell that the evacuees were used to the struggle for survival. “Bahala na sir, mas importante buhi.” (Whatever it takes, sir, as long as we are alive). This is what he would typically hear from them whenever he visits them in assessments. But the condition of pregnant mothers and children in the center need more than resilience to be addressed. “Out of the 9 pregnant women we assessed, 6 were found to be nutritionally at risk. Most are already in their third trimester, but still deprived of the necessary pre-natal checkups because of the scarcity of medical facilities and medical personnel”, Retz shared.
Retz received a report from the evacuation center that a child was born in the evacuation center but never saw more than a few days in this world because no medical personnel were available to assist the mother during labor. Evacuated mothers with infants struggle to produce breastmilk because of the stressful environment and lack of sufficient water intake and well-balanced diet crucial to producing breastmilk.
“Out of the 9 pregnant women we assessed, 6 were found to be nutritionally at risk. Most are already in their third trimester, but still deprived of the necessary pre-natal checkups because of the scarcity of medical facilities and medical personnel.”
Despite their plight, families are trying their best to celebrate the holidays with whatever means they have. The COVID-19 pandemic has already set back the survival, development, and protection of children across the country. But for the ones in Odette-battered Cebu and Bohol, their recovery may lag further behind without access to lifesaving care, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, and quality maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health services.
UNICEF teams are on the ground now, coordinating with local government and partners to reach more the 200,000 children and their families in urgent need of assistance.
Donate now to UNICEF to help children and families affected by emergencies. Your support enables UNICEF to provide ongoing assistance to the most vulnerable families affected by typhoons, earthquakes, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.