PHILIPPINES - Water’s Edge: Lessons from Ondoy and Pepeng

February 13, 2012

  • Residents living on embankments of lakes and rivers risk the loss of lives, property and livelihood in flood-prone Philippines
  • A Bank-assisted study assessed the social and economic conditions of poor urban and rural communities affected by typhoons in 2009
  • Possible loss and disruption of livelihood is a major concern for residents living in coastal communities

Los Baños, Laguna, February 13, 2012—“I get nervous whenever I imagine the water rising. I have a few livestock that I take care of, and it would be difficult to keep moving them,” mulls Mario Durana as he goes about his daily afternoon feeding of three swines in his small backyard. Mario is a resident of Purok 6, Riverside, in Barangay Bamban in the town of Los Banos, Laguna, whose house is on the embankment of Laguna Lake.

His anxiety that the lake would again swell is understandable. After all, the 55-year old hog raiser, his young son and their livestock were fortunate to have escaped the deluge brought about by tropical storm Ondoy (international name Ketsana) in September 2009, which brought an unusually high volume of rain, flooding Laguna, Metro Manila, most parts of Luzon and even as far as Mindanao. But Mario’s livelihood, as did many others, suffered nonetheless with the disruption and destruction caused by the typhoon.

Already considered one of the most disaster-prone countries to tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and landslides, the Philippines was severely devastated both by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng which immediately followed in October, causing massive loss in lives and property. Communities along Laguna Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in the country, were evacuated to schools as the waters rose while others sought refuge with relatives while waiting for the floods to subside.

“If it’s always going to be like this, it’s going to affect how we earn, and this is the most important for me right now, my livelihood,” explains Mario, who struggled on his own to restore his small backyard business after the typhoons, yet constantly fears being displaced. His practice of self-help or “sariling sikap” is one dimension of recovery and reconstruction, which is usually tied to government-led efforts according to a bank-assisted study in 2011 that assessed the short and long-term impacts of the disaster.

Based on the Social Impacts Monitoring (SIM) study conducted by the Institute of Philippine Culture, some of the most affected by Ondoy and Pepeng were farmers and small business owners who suffered heavy losses. The storm caused major damage to lands, crops, equipment and inventory.

The study found that overall, affected households who lacked the capital to recover their losses had to adapt how they earned a living. Farmers for instance, had to find work where available such as in the construction sector since they could no longer work on their land or derived less income from the land they could farm.

In urban areas, adjustments also had to be made in terms of selling cheaper items after losing assets and stock due to the flooding. “My husband works with a capital of 1,000 pesos ($24 dollars) to sell DVDs,” bares a vendor’s wife in Quezon City, after he could no longer continue selling the more expensive mobile phone chargers.

The study also found that while relief assistance played a critical role in helping communities in the immediate aftermath of the disasters, many thought that the forms of assistance extended to them did not respond to long-term needs. Problematic too was the lack of capital to sustain self-employment activities, which participants in the study considered as the main obstacle to their recovery.

To cope with the effects of the typhoons, households relied primarily on finding temporary employment, the study showed. “You’ll have to think of how you can earn. Like me, I can still work, I know how to cut hair. So when I get to cut the hair of two or three people, I can already buy one kilo of rice. Afterwards, you can sell some items or do manicure. The earnings add up,” says one flood victim from Palayan City in Nueva Ecija.

The study also showed how the family played a crucial role in helping rebuild the lives of affected communities. Such is the case with Mario, whose wife had to seek work overseas to augment their meager income.

Mario believes Riverside, which is about an hour and a half away from bustling Metro Manila, is conducive for hog-raising, but he knows the dangers posed by living on the water’s edge. “I really don’t like living here, it seems that the lake is rising every year. In the past it took years before this area got flooded, now it gets flooded when Manila is flooded. It didn’t use to be that way,” ponders Mario.