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    Posted January 3, 2013 by

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    Can we talk about poo for a minute?


    Let’s talk toilets in an emergency!


    Written by Edgar Viterbo, WASH advisor Plan Philippines
    Uploaded by Carin van der Hor, Country Director Plan Philippines


    Powerful wind, intense rain, massive floods, heavy landslides, deaths........


    Houses in the coastal towns of Boston, Cateel and Baganga in Davao Oriental province were wiped out by Typhoon Bopha (local name: Pablo) that made landfall in the first week of December 2012.
    Electric posts were uprooted – along with banana and coconut trees – and mobile phones were reduced to useless gadgets.


    In just a span of a few hours, the three municipalities were reduced to debris and corpses were lying everywhere.


    If I hadn’t personally seen the place, I would have thought it was a scene lifted from one of those end-of-the-world movies.


    But this is reality, and this happened in Mindanao – an island in southern Philippines that is rarely visited by typhoons.


    Plan International, a global development organization that I work for, was on the ground right after the typhoon made landfall. In fact we had our staff on the ground on the fringes of the typhoon the day before..... It was a good thing that we prepositioned relief items even before Bopha made a landfall. Foresight, indeed, helped a lot in bringing immediate help to the survivors.


    As we distributed water and hygiene kits to the survivors as soon as it was physically safe to reach them, we also noted that much has to be done especially in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).


    The piped water systems are so badly damaged that people depend on hand-pump wells for drinking water and hygiene uses. While some toilet bowls remain standing in the open (a very bizarre sight), very few people are encouraged to use them, for privacy reasons. This aggravated the lack of toilets in the affected communities. A private agency, in fact, tested water samples and traced amounts of e-coli unfit for human ingestion. This finding supports the local government workers belief that open defecation may have contaminated the groundwater source.


    A few days after the first batch of water kits were distributed, the municipal physician in Boston told us of a remarkable decline in diarrheal cases especially among children. That is of course music to our ears!


    In the adjacent province of Compostela Valley, various houses in the municipalities of New Bataan, Compostela, Montevista and Monkayo were similarly and totally wrecked while others lost roofs.
    Flash floods from mining tailings, according to local residents, accompanied by the tornado engulfed houses along the river banks and low lying areas, killing scores of people. Unlike in Davao Oriental where survivors managed to build makeshift shelters from debris, survivors in Compostela Valley did not have any option but to stay in evacuation centres.


    The local government was able to supply water and hygiene kits from humanitarian agencies but accessibility to toilets was quite poor. In addition to reported unusual cases of diarrhea, the survivors complained of a lack of underwear and sanitary napkins for women and girls.


    The complaints, however, subsided when Plan distributed hygiene kits in collaboration with the local health department. These hygiene kits include sanitary napkins and are compliant with the SPHERE standards in humanitarian response. Also included are the infant kits that Plan has earlier identified as an urgent need upon identifying lactating mothers in the affected areas.


    Plan International, in coordination with the WASH cluster and the local government units, will continue to distribute the WASH kits. WASH sessions among families and school children on proper water disinfection are also scheduled in various municipalities. In an effort to sustain the sessions that we will initiate, local health staff and volunteers have also committed to launch activities that will discourage open defecation and encourage hand washing before eating and after toilet use.


    Indeed, there are ways to mitigate the spread of diseases and live healthy even in times of disaster, but we have to be willing to talk about toilets, open defecation and hand washing practices!

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