Sometimes working in emergencies is a lesson in frustration. On the phone with my sister the other day, we were laughing about how we were both working in fields where it is an uphill battle for change (she works in education and development); a battle we'd likely never win in our lifetimes. We were laughing about it then but there's a tinge of non-humour when thinking about the fact that you keep working in an endless battle. There are days when I go to one of our areas and see things not changing in spite of the work, energy and non-stop effort we (and others) pour into it. Sometimes, working in emergencies can make you feel like you're not often helping to change things for the better, but just working yourself to the bone being the stopgap so things don't get worse.
While reviewing the accomplishments of the work we're doing here for Bohol Earthquake, I was thinking to myself "wow, we kind of have done a lot!" But for every latrine we build, I feel the burden of not building three more in other areas. For every water system we fix, we get more people asking us to expand our areas because their systems are broken as well. For every intervention or accomplishment we finish, there's the thought of "well, you only answered one need, what's going to happen with the rest?"
Two months after the Bohol earthquake, here's my picture of what's happening here, based on the work we've been doing in water, sanitation and hygiene:
Where some municipalities continue to have no coverage in water, sanitation and hygiene needs, unmet needs continue to exist.
Out of 17 municipalities affected by the earthquake, only about 9 have organizations and groups working in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The rest have had 0-5% coverage for their needs in WASH. It means not everyone has been given anything at all for their needs in these three areas. No household treatment solutions, no hygiene kits, no repairs to water systems.
It could even mean that these areas haven't been assessed, beyond the municipal government's capacity. It could mean that a lot of huge needs are passing under the radar. We did an assessment of Loon in spite of it being outside our areas because we heard some distressing things happening there... and sure enough, we talked to women who walked an hour for water everyday, men who bathed in the open because water lines were cut off in their barangays. These instances could be repeating outside of the already covered areas.
Where the earthquake changed terrain, so did it change water sources and systems
Bohol province has tilted because of the earthquake. When that happens, it's not just about fault lines. It's not just a matter of damaged infrastructures and shelters, landslides, sinkholes and liquefaction. It means the geography or terrain has changed. And what implications do these have on water systems?
1) Municipal and barangay water systems are damaged - reservoirs are cracked, intake tanks are damaged, pipelines have leaks, water may potentially be contaminated. When that happens, people go back to water sources like springs, deep wells, handpumps for water. BUT...
2) Springs and other natural water sources have dried up - because of the "tilt" or changes to Bohol's surface, quite a few municipalities have said that their usual natural or back-up water sources have dried up. The tilt caused the ground to rise up, making it harder to reach the aquifers. Where water could be found at 20 feet, now it's at 30 feet or even deeper just to get water. It means also constructing handpumps takes longer because of the additional depth to drill for.
Sagbayan, Loon and Maribojoc are examples of this. In fact, when you check out Maribojoc's coastline, you'll find waves hitting much farther into the beach than it used to. In Loon, Brgy. Napa is now a bit of an oddity, where ground is now sandy and there is evidence of coral (and not just coral, but reefs) on the ground.
3) Liquefaction has caused ground to sink - there is also the opposite effect of some municipalities reporting areas that have sunk down quite a bit. Coastal communities along Clarin now say that every night, when high tide hits, flooding goes up to waist deep. Before, flooding would only happen occasionally during December - March, depending on the moon. That's not the case anymore though, and now coastal families contend with water hitting them the minute they step out of their raised houses or entering their homes. This could also mean that water sources are potentially contaminated, with seawater entering wells or leaks and damages to pipelines.
4) Diverted water sources - where spring sources have dried up, others have diverted in path. Some of these diversions are not necessarily a good thing when their paths divert to pipelines and the increase in pressure is too much for pipelines. Clarin and Calape have pipeline problems with existing pipes being too small for the increase in water pressure.
Where sanitation may not have been a problem, water issues make it so
Sanitation shortly after the earthquake wasn't terrible. A lot of toilets were outhouses and had relatively little damage, except for its superstructures. These could have been easily replaced. But the lack of water because of earthquake damaged or Haiyan-damaged (indirectly due to the electricity problems from the damaged Leyte power plant) water systems renders toilets unusable. Without water, risk to potential diseases runs much higher.
Where development issues already existed in Bohol, the emergency made it take another step backwards
In 5th class municipalities like Clarin, the presence of ecoli bacteria in water was already very highly present (basically bacteria that comes from fecal matter) even before the earthquake. Now cue in the earthquake and the resulting damages to municipal and barangay level water systems. Where access to water is much more difficult, communities may resort to unpotable water... and without the right knowledge on how to make this drinkable, that runs the risk of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. In municipalities like this, organizations and the government have given water kits which include household treatment solutions. But going back to the issue of uncovered municipalities, do they have household treatment solutions or other alternatives? What is keeping water-borne diseases at bay?
So you may ask, if you're already in Bohol, why don't you cover these areas? It goes back to a question of resources. Organizations and even government, don't have unlimited pools of resources at their disposal, particularly in this economy. Personally, I also believe that humanitarian organizations, private sector and civil society groups should only complement or come in where government resources fall short. So in cases like Bohol, where a large number of municipalities continue to have large needs, ideally government resources should come in. But when an earthquake damages things that cost a huge amount of money to rebuild, like shelters and infrastructure, local governments will fall short of money. That's when the national government is supposed to come in. But cue in competing disasters like Haiyan and Zamboanga and then you get a sense that resources are being stretched thin in an attempt not to make things worse than they already are. These all go back to preparedness, the way preparedness is meant to be, and this should be the wake-up call to the country about changing mindsets on how to prepare for disasters.
But for now, while we're dealing with the aftermath of so many disasters, we've got to make a conscious attempt at keeping the reality of these places alive. Part of solving the problem is addressing the problem by recognizing that there is one. Where there are needs that continue to exist and are present, then we should recognize that they exist so where one sector's resources stop, another sector can step in. One of the best effects of the disasters of 2013 is the recognition that this is no longer a problem for the government or a particular sector to address alone. Rather, if the Philippines is to deal with this issue of larger and more frequent disasters, then we all must work together, regardless of how difficult this will be. Even the world can come in to help, as they are already doing so.
In a couple of weeks, I'll hit the halfway mark of this response and already I'm thinking, when organizations working in Bohol leave, what will happen after? There is still time to bolster Bohol back up to a quicker recovery where it has flagged in the last month and a half. So let's recognize what's happening and start doing something about it.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.