Ondoy’s Insights, Part II

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

As a new storm develops off the east coast of Mindanao, threatening to bring more rains to flood-wracked Manila, I’ve been forced to think of how I should deal with future emergencies.  While my house came off OK, my street is in a low-lying area and we’re in a cul de sac that’s easily cut off by flooding. Water came within 2 inches of entering the house. I believe in preparing now for a flood that’s possibly worse than the last one.  And as Cat and I helped out the the CFC (Couples for Christ) center in Sucat, I also observed some things that bear thinking of for the next disaster.

Home Strategy:
I don’t quite foresee flooding here on a level with that experienced in Marikina or Cainta, as the density of houses is not as great and drainage probably better.  We have a roofdeck and my sister’s house next door is roomy and has a 2nd storey; no problem with where to run. My main problems will be isolation, as the floodwaters block the street, and loss of electricity over a period of several days. 

Solutions: lay in a stock of canned food and bottled water good for 2-3 days at least, draw up a checklist of what needs to be done/stuff to be moved should floodwaters enter the house, have some clothes ready packed, have a first aid kit with lots of disinfectant (for injuries, and if I have to wade out/in). That’s done. (Is this kind of planning easier because I’m a gamer? I think so. Games make you think strategically, and I think that’s as valuable as stuff you learn in college.)

Observations on Relief Program at CFC:
It was great to work with the volunteers at the CFC center, inspiring and kind of humbling to see that kind of bayanihan spirit still so vigorous.  So many donations, so many volunteers!  Filipinos do shine in adversity.  I think though that we can still improve the way we do volunteer relief work.

Item: I think we should reconsider the idea of sending flood victims instant noodle packs.  I seriously doubt if many of them have the facilities to cook or even heat water.  Same observation goes with oatmeal and rice. Perhaps we could focus on sending biscuits, and bread – stuff that people can eat without preparation or need for utensils.

I sort and pack food with the young volunteers Donating raw ingredients or stuff that needs preparation like instant noodles maybe should go to groups that are running soup kitchens.  Anton Sheker’s group also had a good idea – they prepared hardboiled eggs.  Thousands of eggs. Hardboiled eggs are a great relief food – they’re nutritious, they’re easy to eat, and they come in their own sanitary packaging.

If you’re planning to give cooked food, cook it in a way that maximizes shelf life.  You don’t know how long it will take for the food to reach the victims, so a dish that will spoil in just a few hours is sub-optimal.  The funny thing is, we Filipinos actually have the exact solution for this in our traditional culinary repertoire already! They’re called adobo and paksiw.  Cooking in vinegar practically pickles the food, letting it last for days even without refrigeration.

Item: Canned goods are only useful if they can be opened.  I wonder how many victims have can openers? Not many, I’d bet.  That’s why I told Cat to select only cans with easy-open tops for donation and for our own emergency rations.

Item: Not all PET bottles are equal.  Some brands come in relatively flimsy bottles, and we had bottles cracking and leaking as we packed them.  Bottled water for donation to relief efforts should be chosen for the sturdiness of their bottles as well as cost and quality. Also, I believe it’s far more useful to send 1-liter bottles.  Less waste afterward, for one, and more is better. 

All that plastic ... where will it end up?Item: Next time, perhaps advisories could be sent to would-be donors on what is appropriate to donate, and to sort the items to be given.  One of the overwhelming tasks facing the volunteers was the need to sort the great piles of clothing donated into packages by user – adult males, adult females, male children, female children.  Next I donate clothes I’ll put my shirts in one bag, shorts and pants in another, and Cathy will do the same with her items.]

The mountainous task of sorting clothes

Item: I think we could also have used more coordination.  One of the things local governments or homeowners’ associations can do in the future is to hold seminars on dealing with disaster, both as victims and as aid volunteers.  The people at the center were actually getting swamped with the number of donations and volunteers. 

If team leaders had been assigned to each task/area we could have been much more efficient.  I got assigned to pack food and water, and I was able to speed things up by organizing the young volunteers into an assembly line – A, ready the bag, B, you put in item1 and pass to C, who puts in item2, and so on until the pack is complete and ready for transport. Before I went in the kids were all over the place scrounging for items, each making up pack on their own.

Human conveyor belt!

Come to think of it, this is where training in organizations like the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts or heck, even the much-dreaded CMT could’ve been put to good use.  I remember hating my CMT with a passion – what the heck was I supposed to learn baking my brains out in the sun in formation? If they’d used the time instead to do stuff like teach us CPR, basic rescue work, swimming and water rescue techniques, team-building and leadership, stuff like that, I would’ve  been much more motivated to attend my CMT classes.

I don’t think we can deny any longer that global warming has made our weather more violent.  And it’s going to get worse before it gets better, if at all.    Best thing to do is be prepared for the next blow.

And for that lesson – thank you, Ondoy.