Notes on the Aftermath:

-Of the November 2013 earthquake in Bohol and the Typhoon in Leyte/Samar


Summary of Events:

Although in Baclayon we experienced the storm as being no worse than usual -directly after the Leyte/Samar typhoon on Friday November 8, there was no water and no electricity at home.

On Sunday, November 10, electricity and a slow internet connection returned -later, water too.  So we were able to contact family and friends and everything seemed to be returning to normal.

Tuesday November 12, the electricity dissapeared again. Apparently, during the previous period the provincial supply system had been rewired to give electricity only to certain priority areas (including business and government). The rest were cut off completely.

Inquiries on Friday November 15 at the provincial electricity cooperative offices, confirmed earlier rumours that supplies from Leyte were completely down and reconnection could take 45-60 days. The municipality and the church opened charging stations where people could charge batteries for essential devices. Luckily, water supplies continued -intermittently -but sufficient to satisfy careful use and keep emergency supplies topped up.

However, Thursday November 21, the water supply disappeared completely for the rest of the day. The following day, there were rumours of an overloaded system by the pumping station -caused by private use -and that two weeks without water could be expected. Inquiries at the municipality produced a somewhat unclear explanation -but it seems the problem is not limited to the municipality: The island's emergency generating system has overloaded and so even the "priority" areas are without electricity now. The mayor is apparently trying to install generators (for 1.4 m Peso) to solve the problem.

Sunday November 24, the day before the local (Barangay) elections, the electricity returns!

-On an almost permanent basis (with a only few power-cuts now and then)


Living without Electricity:

Electricity has many uses and and each area brings its own set of problems and solutions. In our house we don't have many electrical appliances, so the use of electricity boils down to three main areas:

Lighting: This has been the least of our problems. Luckily we had been able to obtain candles, plus a small amount of paraffin for a lamp somebody gave us when we first moved in (and didn't have electricity yet). We also made a small lamp that worked with home-made coconut oil. And reduced the need for artificial light by going to bed (relatively) early and getting up earlier too.  However, I don't know if that has made us healthy, wealthy and wise. The candle lit dinners were certainly quite romantic. We are still enjoying them.

Refrigerator: For vegetables, etc., Fatima made an evaporation cooler from a ceramic pot, a cloth and a bowl of water. That worked quite well -and we now have a bigger version.  She also experimented by cooking meat and fish in traditional ways that preserve it longer. I gave up eating liquid milk, cheese and butter -so am probably healthier too. We noticed that fresh vegetables tasted nicer if they weren't kept in the refrigerator -and so now we buy vegetables more often from the local market. That helps the local traders too. Actually, the electricity has been back for several days now -and we haven't even turned on the fridge yet.

Computer: This is most important for me because (apart from the garden) most of my "work" involves the computer. Earlier, it was also the  mainstay of my "professional" career (if I had one).  On the one hand, I'm lost without (especially if it rains and I cannot work in the garden -and the local library is closed for some reason). On the other hand, learning to live without it is quite relaxing. For me, computer use boils down to the following:

Communication: Email is my main link with the "outside" world. Without it I cannot communicate with family and friends. However, they have now learned not to worry too much if they hear nothing from me and see only horrific reports on TV. Without email, I'm also not tempted to send all sorts of rants and raves to various people. After a while, the strange "outside" world, that may indeed be a figment of my imagination, almost seems to cease to exist. Now it is slowly returning -and perhaps stress levels are increasing again......
News and Information: I used to be addicted to the BBC news page (perhaps a throw back to early days of breakfast with a newspaper). Now I'm rather fed up with the constant stream of paranoia inducing  propaganda hype and commercial garbage. Whenever the media (in general, the BBC included) report on anything that I have personally experienced, the reports somehow don't seem to fit with my experiences. Much of the "information" on the internet is spurious propaganda too. Who cares what's happening out there anyway -as long as they stay away from my door!

Creative Work: This is the what I miss most. Without the computer I can't work on my "Garden Diary". Writing other texts is difficult too -because I use the text-editing system to help organize my thoughts by cutting and pasting bits of text. Just before the electricity failed, I'd also made a bit of a breakthrough with a Java programme I was working on. Without electricity developing the programme is virtually impossible. Paper and pencil doesn't really work if one is thinking in terms of programmed procedures.              


Living without Water:

Fortunately, we seemed to manage by generally saving water as much as possible, by refilling reserve bottles and buckets whenever we could -and by the appropriate use of water from the tap, the well, the rain -or the fishpond. There was also a fairly frequent rainfall this month -sometimes fairly small (enough to water the garden) and sometimes large enough to flood the fishpond. Water is more important than electricity -and has a wider range of uses in our household:

Drinking: Luckily, apart from a very short period, we were still able to buy 5 gallon containers with drinking water from our usual supplier. Otherwise, we'd have to boil water from other sources. Apart from water with our meals, tea and coffee was perhaps our heaviest use of potable water.

Cooking: Apparently, our normal cooking habits use very little water -except for washing and cooking the rice. If water is used for cooking, then it is usually boiled -and so does not need to be fresh from the tap. Equally so if food is washed before frying or baking.

Cleaning: Cleaning can be reduced to a minimum -and when it is essential, the water used does not (always) need to be of the highest quality. Washing up became quite a ritual. First we rinse the plates to remove bits of food. This water is then thrown out for the chickens. Then we apply the washing up soap -and the rinsing water is saved to flush the toilet.

Washing: Standards of personal hygiene can be relaxed (but not to the extent of risking health). There are also several options: One can wipe oneself down with a cloth damped with a mixture of water and alcohol, one can give oneself a "bed-bath" (as in hospital)  with just a small bowl of water, some soap and a damp cloth -or one can go for a swim in the sea!

Toilet: Dirty (used) water can be used for the toilet -as indeed can rain water.

Animal Needs: We used fish pond water for mixing animal feeds (mostly for the pig). Perhaps this gave extra vitamins and minerals. Luckily it rained enough to sustain the water level. To prevent overcrowding in the pond, we even caught 5 Tilapia (which we shared with our neighbour).

Watering the garden: This task was taken over by the (tropical) rain cycle.


Living without Information:

Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but I personally have found that what I suffered most from was the lack of information about what is actually going on.

On the other hand, I must also say that have been very impressed by the levels of cooperation and self-organization by those in our immediate neighbourhood. So maybe my apparent psychological "need to know" is of little real use here -especially in cases (which it seems are many in the Philippines) where the authorities cannot always be relied upon. Indeed, in many cases, it is perhaps better not to rely on others for essential needs.

Of course, another problem is my regrettable inability to speak (or even understand) the local Bisayan language.  My memory for words (as opposed to processes) is very poor.

However, whatever the cause, I have experienced an almost total lack of "real" (i.e. practical) information: By this I mean simple, basic, things. For example, when our water supply dissapeared -we were told by a neighbour that the local pumping station had broken down because the family living there had (ab)used the electricity supply by using it to satisfy personal needs, including karaoke. Furthermore, she had got up at four in the morning in order to get water -before it became so busy at the well that collecting water would be virtually impossible.

It took great effort (and a lot of filtering of "information" from municipal employees and personal contacts) before discovering that, in fact, the problem was caused by an overload of the provincial electricity supply. Normal electricity supplies from Leyte had (understandably) been totally wiped out and the failure of the Bohol island back-up system had caused a total blackout. We were told, by the mayor's office, that the municipality was buying generators to get the water supply going again -but before the water was restored the normal electricity supply returned. So what will happen to those (expensive) generators?

Clearly, the municipality is under great pressure. It has many problems that need solving quickly -and perhaps they too have little "hard" information to work with. Busy people don't have time to talk about what they are doing -but nevertheless, it is difficult for private citizens to make their contingency plans -if they have no idea of the actual circumstances in which they must operate.


Goods and Services:

Electricity Bill: Every 26th of the month, the local electricity cooperative sends a van to our town to collect payments for the electricity bill. Last month (after the earthquake) we didn't get the bill until the evening of the 26th and it was too late, we had to go into town to pay. This month (after the typhoon) we received our bill on Sunday November 26 -before the electricity was restored in the evening. The bill covered the period from 19 October to 18 November. Considering that both earthquake and typhoon had affected electricity supplies, the bill seemed quite high: 271 pesos for electricity -with a total bill (including VAT and all the add-ons) of 471 Pesos. Normally our bill is between 600 and 700 pesos (500 pesos is perhaps around 10 euros).

Water Bill: Our water bill has actually increased during the period with little, or no, water supply. Normally we pay around 80 to 90 pesos (depending on how much we water the garden). This time our bill was for 112 pesos! The reason is probably because "improvements" to the pumping system mean that lately large amounts of air are pumped when there is no water. For some strange reason, it has been rather difficult explaining this simple fact to the municipal water company. In the meantime, we are supposed to pay the same price for air as for water.....

Essentials: Naturally, there have also been the expected shortages and price increases regarding essential items.  candles and Paraffin (Kerosine)  have been difficult to get -and the price of paraffin has gone up. Other prices too:  Fish, meat and vegetables.

Rural Life: Luckily, we live in a rural area -where levels of both  self-sufficiency and mutual aid seem quite high. In really desperate conditions, we could probably live for a while from the coconuts and other things in the garden (including chickens) -provided they are not plundered by others more desperate than us.

City Life: I suspect that city dwellers will have suffered more than us: How does one live in a concrete town house without air-conditioning? How can one get water from the well in a city? How does one get food if the shops are empty? What happens when the "luxuries" that have become "essentials" are no longer available? What one doesn't have -one can't miss..... but those that have so much more, also have a lot to loose.


.... And now, the News!

In the today's world, the loss of the electricity supply has huge consequences for the ubiquitous electronic communication, news and entertainment systems. After days of total isolation, without any reliable news at all, on Saturday November 23, while we were in town, I bought a copy of The Daily Philippine Enquirer.

The Headline announced that it was 1,461 days (four  years) since the massacre of 54 people, in Mindanao -and that the wheels of justice were grinding so slowly that some witnesses had already died.

On the Front Page were starters for several other stories (with follow-ups inside):

-Manny Pacquiao's career was at stake in his up-coming fight
-Philippinos  would be starring in a "Miss Saigon" revival
-The politician Enrile was ready to answer charges against him in connection with the national "Pork Barrel" scam
-Japanese Troops returning to help with relief work after the typhoon were given a  warm welcome
-Balangiga town on the typhoon hit island of Samar is grateful for US aid -but would like its town bells returned -after they were taken by the US after they massacred local residents in revenge for "insurgent" attacks on US soldiers during the 1899-1902 Philippine American War.

Inside (ignoring the lifestyle and entertainment pages) there were:

-Stories of Corruption and Mismanagement
-Feel-good stories of warm-hearted people rushing to help the disaster victims
-Promotional articles pushing for more "professionalism", more infrastructure -and basically, more opportunities for businesses to make more money marketing materials, goods and services related to the recent disaster.

Sensationalism and Opportunism rules supreme, it seems.

As far as I could see, there was very little, or no, useful information about:

-Exactly what damage had been done to the local infrastructure, or people
-What the actual state of reconstruction and repatriation was.
-Any forward planning with regards to the work still to be done.
-An overview of victims needs and the state of plans to distribute aid for them
-factual reports regarding the actual flow of aid -either to the intended recipients, or others

In fact, there seemed to be very little factual information about anything important. Most reports seemed to focus on the large sums of money (and effort) being pumped into the aid system -with virtually no systematic follow-up of the effectiveness, and the consequences, of the process.

Apparently, the concerns and interests reflected by the media are those of  educated middle class city folks -apparently sitting at home and wanting a little excitement to liven up their day. It seems that such people have almost no idea (and very little serious interest) in how other people live -except to the extent that they can be entertaining -or converted into economically exploitable city folk like themselves.


Fatima's reports


Related Pages:

Earth Shaking Experience
Earthquake Story
Earthquake News

November Typhoon

Disaster Discussions

Garden Diary
Project Homefarm

Trevor Batten
 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon, November 2013