Even from the vantage point of a descending plane, I can see the gaps in the landscape of Tagbilaran City. Where there used to be buildings or structures in place, interspersed now between standing buildings are collapsed roofs, crumbling buildings or cordoned off rubble blocking off streets. Around it, Boholanos are going about their business but I know that every once in a while, people pour out to the streets to wait out an aftershock. Just yesterday, they were as intense as a 5 or 6, strong enough to be an actual earthquake, but actually just echoes of the 7.2 earthquake hitting just off-center of Bohol last October 15.
Signs that relief deliveries will struggle into the affected province are evident as we are delayed in Manila. We are stuck sitting inside our plane for an hour and a half and when we finally get clearance to take flight, we take a circuitous route, obviously killing time while the small 1-plane airport tries to clear flights coming in. Getting off the plane, we see a chopper coming in with military personnel on the ground, waiting to unload relief goods. All throughout the day, we will hear choppers coming and going from different directions.
The locals are helpful from the minute we arrive and cheerful as ever, in spite of how anxious or traumatized they must feel while experiencing up to 5 obvious aftershocks per day. Just yesterday, more than 1,000 aftershocks were recorded and strike from anytime in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or during the day. Only some are felt but they occasionally hit 5 or 6 in intensity... strong enough to rattle you. Our driver tells us that his wooden home was unscathed but his family continues to sleep outside in the last 3 nights because they are wary of an aftershock catching them by surprise if they sleep indoors. The receptionist in our pension house is understanding as we examine each room for structural cracks or furniture or appliances unbolted and high up on the walls. Everyone’s senses are just a little bit more heightened due to the earthquake.
In the Governor’s Mansion, we sit down with Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto and get a provincial overview. The towns of Loon and Maribojoc are largely in the news because the highest number of deaths are there but an entire section of Bohol is cut-off because the bridges surrounding these mountainous areas are damaged and the power supply is cut-off. With their water supply driven by electricity, their water sources are drastically limited. But even with the promises of electricity being restored within the next 2-3 days, there’s no guarantee that water systems aren’t contaminated. Shelter will be an issue with high percentages of partially and damaged houses in stricken municipalities, affecting both the most vulnerable and those with a little more capacity. It’s not yet business as usual as people are reluctant to enter buildings and offices with obvious structural cracks. Small businesses are opening but most of the larger supermarkets outside Tagbilaran are closed, while public markets have collapsed structures. Small-scale farmers are possibly one of the the least affected, but their cash crops are largely for family consumption. The national government is responding directly to requests from the municipal mayors but there appears to be a problem with coordination amongst the three. Until these are resolved, delivery of food packs will not be as efficient as it should be in these critical days.
The needs most often communicated by the affected municipalities are for food and potable water. But the provincial and municipal local governments should begin to take WASH and shelter needs seriously and start thinking about what will happen once the power supply has been restored and the aftershocks stopped. The earthquake will most likely damage water pipes and with this many damaged homes, families will have to start thinking soon about rebuilding, especially since more storms and rains are expected in the coming months.
Original blog posted in Oxfam sa Pilipinas here.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.