Editorial: After the storm

·3 min read

Christmas eve this year may be the leanest in more than half a decade for Marisa, a resident of Barangay Bankal in Lapu-Lapu City, one of the hardest hit in Cebu when Typhoon Rai, coded as Odette in the Philippines, struck last Dec. 16.

Eight days after that evening when not just G. I. sheets but entire roofs were wrenched from nearby houses and electric posts were toppled and snapped like twigs, Marisa and neighbors were still reduced to a daily search for basics: potable water for drinking and cooking, water for bathing and cleaning, and information.

More than a week after Odette’s three-hour devastation, large swathes of Metro Cebu still had no electricity, no water, and no phone signal. Yet, for a people who had survived almost two years of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, an attitude of gratefulness and resolve leavened the press of daily struggle.

As early as 4 a.m., Bankal residents lined up for freshly slaughtered chicken and other produce in the “talipapa (wet market)” across the village. With electricity not yet restored, the refrigeration of produce is out of the question.

Just as the community lockdowns at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic reinforced the significance of farmers, fisher folks, and food entrepreneurs in sustaining community life, post-Odette rehabilitation is eased by the “talipapa” system, where one’s available cash can accommodate only one or two pieces of onion (P250 a kilo) or chili pepper (P400 a kilo) to make the dishes shared on Christmas eve a bit flavorful and festive.

Sharing has leaped from being a holiday bromide to a survival staple. Neighbors swap herbs, spices, and other greens that remain after Odette’s fury tore through gardens nurtured by the pandemic’s devoted “plantitos” and “plantitas.”

However, it is in the solutions raised by a community to answer the dire absence of water that one can gauge the grassroots’ readiness at self-help and sustainable living.

Marisa’s community relied on a Level III water system that distributed water to households through a communal pump. When power was cut off as Odette’s winds gained strength in the early evening of Dec. 16, the village’s water system was also shut down.

As Lapu-Lapu City struggled to clear debris and rehabilitate structures downed by the typhoon, the homeowners’ association (HOA) searched for a power generator to rent and operate, hampered by the competition for generator sets and gasoline.

While HOA officers sought to solve the water problem, some families opened their homes to let neighbors and strangers pump and haul water. In Marisa’s village, only two families had manually operated water pumps in their property. These families gave open and free access to hundreds of families needing water daily.

Another homeowner with a generator set continued to sell purified water, coordinating with HOA sectoral representatives to allocate a container of water to every household each day, with the elderly in every household given an extra container of water.

These communal arrangements did not only address water and sanitation priorities but also averted potential crises. Neighbors resolved arguments in the water queues; prevented hoarding and reselling of water at exorbitant prices; and repaired and maintained the water pumps that bore daily wear-and-tear from many users.

In the early days after the typhoon, when phones had either no signal or were drained of power, the daily gathering of people pumping and drawing water served as an informal hub of information, from updates on which roads were cleared and passable to eyewitness accounts of the conditions in places made inaccessible by lack of a phone signal and media coverage.

So while Odette compounded the challenges brought by a two-year-old pandemic, Marisa and her community feel every reason to celebrate Christ’s birth in the blessings received: survival, community, and self-help.

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