Typhoon Nina aftermath: Catanduanes fears another diarrhea outbreak

The Humanitarian Response Consortium installs a water bladder for families in Barangay Santo Niño in Virac, Catanduanes on New Year’s Day

A diarrhea outbreak hit parts of Catanduanes in November 2016. After the onslaught of Typhoon Nina, residents and local officials fear that the cases could recur, and even get worse.

Back in November, more than 100 cases were recorded in the entire province. One of the worst outbreaks happened in Barangay Santo Niño, where at least two residents were reported to have died due to diarrhea.

“Some of our neighbors were treated immediately but there were those who were hard-headed. That’s why we lost some lives. There are times when the water coming out of our pipes is discolored. We have been working on making everyone aware that they should boil their water before drinking,” said Gloria Occol, a barangay health worker.

The community was one of the areas that tested positive for fecal contamination before the storm hit in December. Many houses in the village still do not have their own toilets, while the practice of open defecation is unaccounted.

In Virac, most communities source their daily water needs from three sources – privately-run water districts, their own barangay water systems, and other free-flowing sources of water such as falls.  

Only 5 out of 11 municipalities in Catanduanes are serviced by water districts, which regularly chlorinate their water. However, some chlorinators would not function until electricity is fully restored. Up to 70% of electric posts were knocked down during the storm, according to Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua.

The quality of other sources of water for drinking and other daily needs, meanwhile, are not monitored regularly.

Local officials fear that the overflow after the heavy rains could worsen the state of water systems, especially after some major water lines were destroyed and had to be reconnected.

Decay from vegetation and trees that were damaged by the storm could also aggravate contamination, said Provincial Health Officer Hazel Palmes.

Health officers have appealed to residents to boil their water for the recommended 10 minutes to 15 minutes before drinking, or get their water from safer sources.

Since two people in Gloria’s neighborhood died in November due to dehydration as a result of diarrhea, most of her neighbors have been buying distilled water in water refilling stations.

Rita Vargas, another barangay health worker, said this is an additional burden for them. Most residents in Barangay Santo Niño are abaca farmers, one of the sectors most affected by the recent typhoon. In Virac, the municipal government estimates that almost one hundred percent of abaca trees were damaged by strong winds and heavy rains.

Rita said they choose to buy water from refilling stations to be safe. After the storm, the price of one gallon of distilled water increased from 25 pesos to 40 pesos since the stores need generator sets to function.

“It is really a sacrifice for us, for our own sake. We just persevere,” she said.

On New Year’s Day, the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), in collaboration with the Catanduanes Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council through the Provincial Health Office and the Virac Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, installed a water bladder that could be used to purify up to 5,000 liters of water per batch for about 400 families in Barangay Santo Niño and nearby barangays.

Aqua tablets, which are used to treat water for drinking in emergency situations, were distributed during the installation of the water bladder. An information session to explain proper hygiene and water use was also conducted.

“This is just an initial step in assisting local authorities in addressing humanitarian needs in affected areas. We are willing to work with the local government in crafting and implementing a long-term solution related to water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as other needs on shelter and livelihood,” said Bong Masagca, team leader for the rapid assessment and response team deployed in Catanduanes after Typhoon Nina.

The Humanitarian Response Consortium is composed of three groups that are activated in emergency situations: People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network, A Single Drop for Safe Water and the Rural Development Institute of Sultan Kudarat Inc.

The team is coordinating with officials from the barangay, municipal and provincial level on what can be done to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Catanduanes.

HRC’s assessment and response activities in Catanduanes are supported by Oxfam and UNICEF.