A recently completed community evacuation shelter on the Eastern Visayas University campus near Tanauan, Philippines. It will serve surrounding populations during future emergencies, and is part of an UMCOR-supported integrated, community-based disaster risk reduction program.
UMCOR is helping at-risk communities protect themselves from typhoons and other hazards
By David Tereshchuk*
August 11, 2015—In the typhoon-prone Philippines, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has completed construction of two community storm shelters and is helping at-risk villages employ those shelters effectively, as part of an integrated disaster-readiness program the communities develop for themselves.
In the wake of the devastating 2013 typhoon known locally as Yolanda (and internationally as Haiyan), UMCOR is supporting the construction of up to ten such shelters across the Tanauan municipality in the country’s eastern province of Leyte.
Yovanna Troansky, executive secretary of UMCOR’s disaster risk reduction program, visited the region recently, just as the two shelters were being completed. The shining example of the new shelter built on Eastern Visayas University’s campus grounds impressed her with its simple but sturdy two-story construction.
“It was really exciting,” said Troansky, “to see the completed new building, a structure holding out the promise of huge benefits to the community. The question now for local people,” she added, “is how exactly to use the new building they have at their disposal.”
With strengthening community resilience as its principal aim, a new training program supported by UMCOR will teach local community leaders—and through them the broad population—the best practical steps toward readying themselves for a safe and orderly evacuation in any emergency.
These steps will include a disaster-risk-assessment survey, conducted with the full participation of villagers themselves; village-level planning of ways to reduce hazards; ensuring residents are prepared for such hazards; and agreeing on plans for organizing and mobilizing the population once a typhoon has hit the area.
Another important step will be the formation of community emergency response teams. These will operate along agreed lines of contingency-planning, and will work out early-warning systems, holding repeated response drills and simulations.
UMCOR’s local partners for the training will include the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), which works across the Philippines, and the community-based organization, Rural Development Institute – Leyte, with its long and intimate knowledge of the area’s local villages.
Effective public education, information, and communication will be a vital element of the training program. These are now regarded as essential because they often appeared to be dangerously lacking at the time of Typhoon Yolanda, and many residents ended up confused about just what kind of deluge to expect.
“Analyses of Yolanda’s impact,” Troansky pointed out, “show that a major factor in the high casualty rate was incomplete understanding of what was happening. People didn’t understand the concept of a ‘five-meter (about 16 feet) storm-surge’ that was announced on the radio.”
As a result, residents did not know what they could do to avoid the surge’s worst effects, like seeking safety on the second floor of a secure building. Consequently more than 1,200 people, most of them trapped in low-lying places, died from the surge in Tanauan alone, compared with 45 killed by other aspects of the storm.
In an effort to encourage grassroots input into the new plans, a kind of writing workshop will be held in the communities to refine local knowledge about typhoon behavior in the area and collaboratively create what Troansky calls “the very best and most appropriate kind of messaging.” Having clear plans for just when to evacuate and by which carefully selected routes, based on good knowledge of previous disaster patterns, is critical.
Troansky summed up her visit saying, “I strongly sensed how huge a difference it makes when community members have real confidence in their leaders and in themselves. And how lifesaving it can be when they know just what to do when danger strikes.”
For Assistant General Secretary for UMCOR International Disaster Response, Rev Jack Amick, the Leyte disaster risk reduction program prompted the recollection of a verse (29:18) from Proverbs: “Without a vision, the people perish.”
Amick commented, “The training program will help prevent another major storm from becoming a major disaster. The people will have a vision, a plan, of just what they can do to protect themselves, their families and neighbors.”
Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Risk Reduction, Advance #3021952, supports UMCOR’s helping communities in the Philippines and elsewhere prepare for disasters and reduce potential losses of life and property when disasters strike.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.