By Jessica Salas
Their houses made of bamboo and nipa sheets or some scarped plastic materials as roofing sit around Mt. Manaphag, a few meters from the shore or nestled on a cropped out rock by the mountain side. These are the fisher folks of Barangay Tambaliza, a barangay at the foot of a mountain shaped like the famous Pan de Azucar of Rio de Janeiro and so this island is popularly called by its namesake.
Last year, volunteers from Kahublagan sang Panimalay Fnd, a local NGO in the province of Iloilo, asked the Mayor of the town, Concepcion, if they can conduct a DRR/CCA training (Disaster Risk Reduction/ Climate Change Adaptation Training) in Barangay Tambaliza. The municipality has already conducted its DRR/CCA planning workshop, but the Mayor agreed to see how a barangay-based training would come to be. The Environment Management Specialist of the town looked for meal funds during the five-day training. The sessions were conducted once every week for the next five weeks. The Punong Barangay, Mrs. Rolinda de Julian and her council were excited to have a workshop; little did they know that they will be the one doing the work and not just listen to lectures. At last, with a consistent attendance from all sectors in the barangay, the participants came up with a Safe Village Plan complete with maps they prepared, list of characteristics of each hazard, the names of resource-stakeholders and their committees as well as the list of the vulnerable households, the relocation plans (not yet implemented), their safe emergency place with listed provisions, and other requirements in the Training Manual. The plan was presented to the Municipal Mayor during their graduation exercise.
Several days before the arrival of Typhoon Yolanda last November 8, radio announcements were heard several times a day, warning that a super typhoon was coming and that storm surge will hit those in the coastal areas. The leaders recalled their list of vulnerable areas for storm surge and the whole community in these areas were evacuated. They knew what a storm surge was. They had identified this hazard in their Safe Village Plan. It is one of the eight hazards they had characterized and planned for. They knew the vulnerable areas, and that around 1,200 people will be affected. According to the Punong Barangay, they knew what to do and where to go.
After the storm passed; the schools, the chapels, the barangay hall, the covered court, and even the few concrete houses on the island were seen without roofs. Most houses were made of light materials and they were simply shattered. Trees were uprooted and the villagers’ fishing boats, their source of livelihood, were smashed on shore or carried away by the waves. A terrible sight greeted them even as they – with women and children – hovered shivering and wet by the walls of their evacuation center, which was without roof as well. Then the hour of reckoning came and everyone looked for his/her family. Everyone was present. There was zero casualty.
The familiar mountain which was covered by a lush forest and has a rich wild life (including monkeys and sea eagles) which the barangay protected with its ordinances and strict rules, became an unrecognizable rock without vegetation. After the typhoon, they saw a denuded Mt. Manaphag revealing only dark rocks and stones. While the fisherfolks live by the sea for their livelihood, there were a few households who planted some root crops and even rice on a flat piece of land far from the shore and at the elevated mountain slope. The cropland was also flooded by sea water. One good thing, the island was surrounded by mangroves except in a short coastal area with white sand which the people wanted to maintain as a beach for the community and its budding ecotourism project. Again, the tourist huts were all blown away. The community maintains a marine protection zone which they guard well against big fishing boats using big fishing gears that hurt the corals. This zone is the source of their daily food and income and is in tact, but they lost all their boats.
The training sessions and the small group discussions could only be reminisced by looking at the heap of bamboo and nipa remains of the Training Hall.
Two days after the storm, Kahublagan sent tarpaulins for 200 houses in Tambaliza, but more than 500 houses were torn down. So they started looking for funds to procure more tarpaulins and fishing boats for the livelihood of the villagers. A week later, the mayor told Kahublagan that instead of campaigning for fishing boats, he requested Kahublagan to just train the rest of the villages of the town. In response, Kahublagan planned to conduct a Training of Trainers, transforming the Tambaliza leaders into trainers for a Safe Village .
Weeks later, a team from Kahublagan conducted a validation/evaluation session where the participants identified their strengths, their capital assets, the reasons they survived Typhoon Yolanda – amidst tears and laughter. The whole exercise was a release of tension and a thanksgiving celebration for all the help they received, both local and international. The leaders looked forward to becoming trainers for Safe Village in their town. They may not have implemented everything they planned for in their own Safe Village Plan, but they realized the importance of prevention and preparation and of taking the business of climate change a very serious matter.