Yovanna Troanksy, UMCOR’s disaster risk reduction executive, stands in front of the double-storied evacuation center built with UMCOR support in Leyte Province, Philippines. Photo: Courtesy of Yovanna Troansky
Typhoon-resistant community evacuation shelters in the Philippines are part of a disaster risk reduction strategy to weather the next storm
By David Tereshchuk*
When Super Typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Typhoon Haiyan) hit the Philippines in late 2013, its devastating force made it one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.
During more than two years of recovery since then, Filipino communities have been applying the lessons that Yolanda brought in its wake—lessons UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has emphasized in its disaster response and disaster risk reduction work.
One vital lesson is that a new rapid-onset event—such as the typhoons to which the Philippines is prone—can, without sufficient precautionary measures, wipe out the gains achieved during the recovery period.
“Communities can lose in minutes what they have rebuilt over years,” said Yovanna Troansky, UMCOR’s executive secretary for Disaster Risk Reduction. “For that reason it is important to help communities enhance their strengths and capacities in order to reduce the risk of losses and damages associated with natural hazards.”
Typhoon-resistant community evacuation shelters
|Community evacuation shelters are built to withstand very high winds, torrential rain, and flooding. Photo: UMCOR Philippines
UMCOR has been working with communities in the eastern Philippines province of Leyte as they bolster their resilience against potential future events such as typhoons or storm surges.
UMCOR has worked closely with local authorities and neighborhood residents to build five typhoon-resistant community evacuation shelters. Together, they have selected strategic sites for the shelters and ensured that the best design and construction standards for the sturdiest buildings are applied.
The structures are double-storied and capable of withstanding very high winds and torrential rain and flooding. They have been built in the Tanauan and Tacloban municipalities of Leyte, where Typhoon Yolanda caused the greatest devastation.
“Just as important,” said Troansky, “is community-based planning and organizations to reduce the possibilities of future devastation.” UMCOR has supported the recruiting and training of teams of local citizens organized around disaster risk reduction, disaster response, and climate change.
“Typhoons will continue to occur, but the point is to make sure that communities know exactly what to do when a typhoon is approaching, where to go, and how best to help each other be safe,” Troansky added.
Jeszha Falguera, 26, of Canramos barangay (or local community), an aspiring member of the national police force, is a dedicated participant in this resilience-building process. She received UMCOR training to become a risk-reduction trainer for her local community, to help her neighbors be better prepared against future threats.
“I want to share with other people the knowledge and skills I have learned from my trainings,” she said. “I want them to increase their awareness of risks and hazards; know how to prepare [for disasters]; know how to save their lives from these hazards; and understand how to avoid another disaster.”
Falguera’s training and work fit into the broad plan to develop a network of well-informed citizenry. Together, her community is cultivating a well-conceived and well-rehearsed plan to coordinate an effective community response to threatening conditions. And if evacuation is necessary, community members will know exactly what to do, and will be able to accomplish it in an orderly, safe fashion.
Said Falguera: “The information and learnings I received are not like material things that can perhaps be easily lost again. These are for keeps.”
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*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.