Typhoons in the Philippines
The Philippines is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. It sits in the 'Pacific Ring of Fire' and the typhoon belt of the western North Pacific basin. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common and roughly 20 typhoons batter the country each year. Typhoons (also known as cyclones or hurricanes) are large, spiralling, slow-moving storms which form over the ocean with temperatures of more than 26°C and above 5° latitude. They bring heavy rains and winds of up to 240 kilometres per hour, destroying homes, crops and livelihoods, and sometimes killing people and livestock.
The five most devastating typhoons recorded in the Philippines have occurred since 1990, affecting 23 million people. As seas warm, devastating typhoons have occurred with increasing frequency and are affecting areas south of the traditional typhoon belt.
Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, was a category 5 storm and the world's deadliest typhoon in 2012, hitting southern Philippines on 4 December with wind gusts of up to 210 kilometres per hour. It left a massive trail of destruction in its wake, killing more than 1,800 people, destroying an estimated 177,000 houses, affecting 6.2 million people and leaving a damage bill of over $US1 billion.
As Typhoon Bopha approached, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issued regular warnings updating people about its approach and intensity. The Philippine Government and emergency teams prepared to provide immediate support during the disaster and were ready to assist with evacuations and to search for and rescue people.
After the storm the government and emergency teams provided safe water and portable toilets to limit the spread of water-borne diseases. They distributed food, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, tarpaulins and hygiene kits (bucket, a wash basin, a portable toilet, sanitary items, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste) to families. They set up evacuation centres to provide medical aid, hot meals and comfort to those who had lost relatives.
The clean-up and assessment of support required to assist people recover and rebuild their livelihoods is ongoing. Plantations have been wiped out, leading to food shortages and loss of income for survivors.
Prevention, mitigation and preparedness
Schools are often used as evacuation sites in times of disasters. In preparation for future typhoons, Red Cross is improving water and sanitation facilities in schools by increasing the number of functioning toilets and promoting hygiene practices to help reduce the spread of water-borne diseases and absence rates from illness.
With insufficient toilets, students have used the public spaces, waterways or returned home to use the toilet. Septic toilets with pour flush have been repaired and new ones constructed to reach the standard ratio of 30 students to one toilet. Hand rails were added to a number of cubicles to improve disability access. Separate toilets for girls have improved privacy. Some students did not have toilets at their houses and those that did said they preferred the toilets at school as the toilets were always clean and soap and water were available. Tanks have been installed to ensure a supply of water for hand washing and flushing.
Students from years 1 to 6 were engaged through the use of educational games illustrating the direct link between personal hygiene and good health. Students learned to always use the toilet, and to wash their hands before eating and after using the toilet. Student leaders were key change agents, demonstrating good hygiene practices which younger children quickly followed. Students have also taken their new knowledge and behaviours home to promote change within their families.
Schools have formed water and sanitation committees composed of the principal, a teacher, a parent and two students who are responsible for continuing to educate the school community on the use and maintenance of the toilets and hand washing stations. Some schools are fundraising to ensure that hygiene items can be purchased regularly and funds are available for small repairs as needed. In one school the committee was so motivated that they are fundraising to build more toilets.
Cooperating for success
Red Cross, local governments, the Department of Education, school community teachers, parents and students have worked together to improve facilities and reduce the spread of water-borne disease in daily life. When schools are used as evacuation centres during a typhoon, improved toilets and hygiene habits will help reduce the spread of disease.