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Disaster Preparedness will Pay Off

By Chloe Elizabeth Hill

After arriving in Tacloban City, one of the first places I visited was San Joaquin – one of the barangays of the town of Palo – a 25-minute drive from Tacloban City. San Joaquin was one of the barangays that suffered the most damage and loss of life when Typhoon Yolanda struck.

9 months after Yolanda, the majority of the large-scale clean-up has been completed but the coastal barangay is far from recovered. The dependence of the community on the coconut industry has left many people unemployed after Yolanda destroyed almost all of the small-scale coconut plantations. The service industry has also suffered and it could take years before livelihoods are completely restored. This has resulted in 60% of the population relying on fishing as their primary source of subsistence.

Barangay Captain of San Joaquin, Palo – Gregorio Papoose V. Lantajo

Barangay Captain of San Joaquin, Palo – Gregorio Papoose V. Lantajo

During our visit we were lucky enough to meet the San Joaquin Barangay Captain, Gregorio Papoose V. Lantajo, who is aware of the challenges ahead and has many proposals to increase disaster-preparedness within his community. The social resilience of San Joaquin is clear to anyone who visits the area but this is yet to be matched with structural and economic resilience which will enable the impacts of future extreme weather events to be minimised.

Diversifying employment has been applied by the San Joaquin community through training programs for carpenters and builders. Barangay Captain Lantajo also had many ideas for structural adaptations, such as the construction of a road enabling traffic to travel inland, leading people to an evacuation point when necessary. He also recommended the identification of a two-story safety house in each of the seven districts within San Joaquin which families within the districts can use during a dangerous weather event.

Barangay Captain Lantajo also acknowledges the benefits solar could have provided the barangay directly after Typhoon Yolanda. Solar-powered lights and mobile phones charged could have helped community members to find their loved ones and food supplies which may have lessened the trauma experienced. The ability to charge electrical equipment would have also increased the efficiency of the initial clean-up. Solar-powered vehicles would have been extremely beneficial by transporting supplies into the city while diesel was in short supply. With the current costs of electricity in the temporary tent communities, it is also likely that investing in solar would also be more cost-effective long term.

But Barangay Captain Lantajo fears that his ideas, as well as the opinions of other local officials, are often overlooked and as a result aid is repeatedly directed to where it is least needed. Barangay Captain Lantajo believes that increased communication between (I)NGO’s and local governments (including at the barangay level) is required to get the most from the limited funds available. Once this is achieved, maybe, one day, we’ll have a situation where disasters are not managed reactively through humanitarian aid and reconstruction, but rather proactively by initiating resilient, adaptive approaches that will reduce the costs of hazards before they strike.#

Graveyard for Yolanda victims at the front yard of the San Joaquin parish church

Graveyard for Yolanda victims at the front yard of the San Joaquin parish church

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