Haiyan experiences confirm disability survey findings

Scared and hungry: Myline (right) and several other women living with disabilities sheltered for eight days after the typhoon.
By Andy McElroy

GENEVA, 29 November 2013 – This year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction published a survey that revealed how people living with disabilities are extremely vulnerable during times of disaster.

Eighty percent would be unable to evacuate immediately without difficulty in the event of sudden disaster. Six percent said they would not be able to evacuate at all.

The survey, published on October 13, also revealed that 71 percent of respondents have no personal preparedness plan for disasters. Only 31 percent always have someone to help them evacuate while 13 percent never do.

On the plus side, respondents and their care-givers told vivid stories of resourceful people struggling against exclusion.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, in the Philippines, a similar picture of people living with disabilities and their care-givers in times of disaster is emerging: they are both vulnerable as well as remarkably resilient.

Below, five snapshots tell how people living with disabilities and their care-givers were affected by Typhoon Haiyan and how they are now facing up to rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. The stories were originally told by Chelsea Huggett of CBM International.

Flora’s story
FLORA Piel, the sole care-giver for her two teenage sons Jesson and Jeboy, faced an agonizing choice as Typhoon Haiyan bore down on their small town.

“When the typhoon came I was very afraid for my children. I knew I had to get them to safety. They cannot talk and can only walk very short distances. I was afraid that if the water came, they would die,” Flora said.

The evacuation centre was 1km from her house. “The only way was to carry one child at a time. My neighbour came with me and we took Jesson to the centre first. He stayed there with my neighbour while I came home and got Jeboy,” said Flora, who lives in in Barotek Viejo, a small town on the coast of Iloilo province.

“When I came back the second time the water was already starting to rise. I was concerned my children would not be safe.”

After the typhoon the Piel family returned to a pile of rubble, which was all that was left of their home. Flora, though, pointed to one bright spot: “My (three) chickens survived the typhoon too; my neighbour carried them to the evacuation centre.”

Cerilo’s story
CERILO is blind and has reduced mobility and lives with his mother Wilma on the shoreline in Iloilo province. Typhoon Haiyan was a terrifying experience for both of them.

Wilma, who is Cerilo’s sole care-giver, decided to carry her son to safety at his grandfather’s house. “It was very difficult,” she said. “I took my other three children to the evacuation centre, then came back to get Cerilo. When I carried him I kept falling over.”

Seventeen-year-old Cerilo, who has never been to school, recalls: “I was very scared. I was shivering cold and could not stop crying.”

The family now lives in a shack, normally used for animals and storage, on the farm of Cerilo’s grandfather. Their shoreline home has been devastated but, along with neighbours, Wilma and her children have begun the long task of rebuilding.

Joy’s story
WITHOUT the assistance of others it would have been very difficult for Joy to evacuate her home, 30 metres from the shore, ahead of Typhoon Haiyan.

When asked why she did not leave, Joy, who uses a crutch to walk, said she has a strong faith in God and knew that she would be safe. What also helped, undoubtedly, was the fact she lived in a concrete home, which, unlike the neighbouring houses of bamboo and wood, survived the typhoon.

“After Typhoon Frank (in 2008) my children helped me rebuild. Now with Yolanda (Haiyan) I was very lucky. My house was only partially damaged,” said Joy. “All the neighbours left but I did not want to go.”

While Joy’s home was certainly exposed to the typhoon the fact it had been rebuilt much stronger made her much less vulnerable.

Myline’s story
EIGHT days after Typhoon Haiyan, Myline and several other women and young children were still sheltering in the Tacloban Persons with Disability Cooperative, perched on a mountainside above the main city. They were hungry and had lost hope.

“At first I thought it was just a mild wind but then the water started coming in,” said Cooperative project manager Jemalyn. “It was very deep and rose fast up to my waist. We were scared and crying and shivering. We managed to smash a hole in the back wall to let the water out.”

Although the experience was difficult and the future remains challenging, it is clear a combination of shelter and a supportive network have kept the worst at bay. “We are getting hope for a brighter future,” said Jemalyn.

Manith’s story
TWENTY ONE-year old Manith, who is unable to walk, was carried 1km to safety by her father ahead of Typhoon Haiyan.

“I was so afraid for her, the water was rising fast,” said Manuelito, who runs a market stall selling peanuts and biscuits in Barotek Viejo. His daughter has no wheelchair and her only route to safety was on the back of her father.

The family of six now live in the cramped conditions of a neighbour’s house, unable to return to their own home which lies in ruins after the typhoon.

Manuelito admits to being fearful for his children but is determined to one day build a safe home for Manath and the rest of his family; another example of the crucial role of care-givers for many people living with disabilities.
VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018 VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018.
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