Rising from the rubble: How Palompon is recovering from Yolanda
LEYTE, Philippines – If Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) taught them anything, the biggest lesson would be the value of preparation, says Ramon Oñate, mayor of Palompon, Leyte.
Yolanda was the hardest test that Palompon’s risk mitigation and response programs – planned years before the super typhoon hit – had to face. According to Oñate, around 80% of the town’s infrastructure was destroyed by strong winds brought by the super typhoon.
Palompon faced storm surges 4 meters high. But the town’s mangrove sanctuary saved the town from total destruction. (READ: A town saved by mangroves)
After the typhoon hit on November 8, 2013, the local government knew that there was no time to lose.
“The critical part of every calamity is the first 24 hours. If you can have a committee to handle that, everything will be in order after the first 24 to 48 hours,” Oñate said.
Citing the local government’s efforts in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, he added: “The afternoon after the typhoon hit, around 2:30 pm, all the municipal heads and employees were here at the city hall. At 3:00 pm, we already convened the local council and we were able to declare a state of calamity.”
Being prepared helped the local government cope with the typhoon’s aftermath.
Two days before the Yolanda hit land, on November 6, the local government asked informal settlers living in the coastal areas to evacuate to higher ground.
This is the reason why only 7 lives were lost in Palompon, due to falling coconut trees and health reasons after the typhoon hit.
The local government also placed generators in strategic locations around town. On the evening after the typhoon, they were able to set up lights in the municipal hall and in various parks.
“On the second night, we had television set up in different areas. We wanted the people to see how other municipalities are doing so they can have hope and realize that they can consider themselves quite lucky,” the mayor added.
Chainsaws, heavy equipment
Palompon has a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place for clearing debris in a typhoon’s aftermath. In an ordinance under the town’s environment protection office, owners of chainsaws are required to register their equipment. When Yolanda hit, the owners were assigned areas and given quotas of fallen trees to clear. (READ: Rebranding the chainsaw after Yolanda)
“They had to report to the barangay everyday if they finished their daily quotas. This was required so they can renew their permits,” Raoul Bacalla, Palompon disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) chief, said.
The local government asked local businessmen to lend the local government heavy duty equipment for clearing operations, Bacalla said.
“So on the second day, we were able to clear up the national highway so we can connect with other LGUs. It took us 5 days to clean up the entire town. People who came here 2 weeks after the typhoon thought that we weren’t hit,” he added.
Solid waste management
Clearing the debris would’ve taken months without Palompon’s solid waste management program in place.
In 2010, the local government passed a resolution that requires residents to segregate garbage. The same year, the town’s old dumpsite was turned into an eco park, where biodegradable materials are converted into fertilizer for farmers. Non-biodegradable materials are also turned into bunker fuel.
When typhoons hit the town, flood waters easily recede since the canals leading to the river and sea aren’t blocked by garbage. Cleaning up the town after typhoons takes little time as there are minimal debris to be picked up.
Ten days after the typhoon, local officials began looking at measures to improve local morale.
“We want them to think that they can rise from this calamity,” Oñate said.
Residents of Palompon are mostly either fishermen or coconut farmers and Yolanda took away their livelihood.
“Around 90% of the coconut trees fell down, so people had no sources of livelihood. After Yolanda, some locally-produced vegetables cost P100 to P200 per kilo,” Oñate added.
To ensure that local industries will go back to normal, the local government gave seedlings to farmers who lost their crops. They helped repair wooden and palm boats for the fishermen.
Other livelihood activities were given to the residents so they can regain what they lost in Yolanda.
Oñate said leadership is important in implementing rehabilitation plans and effecting change in DRRM and climate change adaptation (CCA).
“Our country and our communities are prone to disasters. As leaders, we must always be prepared for the best and the worse case scenario,” Oñate added.
He added: “Preparation is important in every aspect of your life. Meetings and constant reminders should be constant for the residents. We don’t need to wait for typhoons before we learn our lessons.”
Bacalla also said that a town’s vulnerability and location should be used to its advantage when it comes to CCA.
“That’s the thing about nature – anything that can’t kill you will make you strong. In order to be strong, you have to protect the environment around you,” he added.
Rising from the rubble that Yolanda brought, some 7 months after, the lives of Palompon’s residents are back to normal. With their environmental protection and risk mitigation programs, Bacalla and Oñate believe that the town is ready to face future disasters.
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The research for this case study was supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
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