Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Building disaster-resilient communities

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Noli Abinales, one of the founders and current president of Buklod Tao. His slight build and kind voice belie the magnitude of change he is driving in his community. He has an uncanny ability to turn problems into creative solutions. If ever a disaster-resilient community is to be built, it will undoubtedly incorporate the ideas of Noli and Buklod Tao.
Noli and Buklod Tao's disaster preparedness equipment.
Buklod Tao is a community organization serving the communities residing near the riverbanks in barangay Banaba, San Mateo, RizalIn 1997, concerned community members created a community-based disaster management unit. They trained rescue teams, built rescue boats and developed an early warning system. 
Belen de Guzman is part of the CBDM team. Her early warning of the rising water levels was critical to saving lives during the Ondoy flooding. Her equipment consists of a headlamp and a radio.
Their efforts have paid off: unlike neighbouring communities, nobody in their community has died due to flooding. While the flood waters of last year's Typhoon Ondoy claimed many of their homes and possessions, it did not claim any lives (although three people died of flood-related diseases following the flooding).

Rules posted on the main road remind residents of the steps for disaster preparedness.
Various flood mitigation measures have been implemented over the years. Acting on the recommendation of government agencies, the community built up the riverbanks with sandbags. Most of the sandbags have been carried away in floodwaters. 
A young boy stands atop a bamboo ladder. The riverbank is shored up with degrading sandbags.
Bamboo trees were planted along the riverbank to prevent further bank erosion. Many of the seedlings were washed away with the annual flood. Of the seedlings that remained and were able to take root, few survived the raging flood waters of 2009. 
A bamboo stand protects against the erosion of the riverbank.

The military recommended they set up embankment walls made of "Gambion boxes" - essentially large wire frame boxes filled with rocks - to help prevent flooding and bank erosion. 
Man building a Gambion box.
Community members and student volunteers from De la Salle University are spending the next few Saturdays shoring up the riverbank with Gambion boxes. 

A row of Gambion boxes. The embankment wall should be extended to the riverbank (right) and up another three layers.

The current focus of Buklod Tao is on creating on-site medium-rise evacuation centres. Ondoy set a benchmark for the minimum height of evacuation centres, which should be three to four stories high. With sufficient resources, these evacuation centres can become a reality and help to protect the vulnerable population living in barangay Banaba.  

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