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NOTES FROM GROUND ZERO | How aid agencies convince their workers to stay long in a disaster area

Posted on: December 3, 2013

Working and staying in disaster zones is no piece of cake. You work long hours, face hunger, fatigue, mosquitoes, uncomfortable sleeping accommodations and on top of that you have to deal with inefficiencies and politics–conditions that could wear down ordinary people like me. (That’s why the aid agencies and volunteers–local or foreign–have my respect forever).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Norwegian contingent was among the groups that responded to the calls for medical aid in the towns of Basey and Marabut, Samar two weeks after Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (International Code Name: Haiyan) hit Central Philippines on November 8.

The ICRC took over the management of the badly damaged and crippled district hospital in Basey. These Norwegians also stationed themselves in Balangiga, which is already in Eastern Samar and is two towns away from Basey. They also have a half-way “tent city” somewhere in Marabut, the last town of Western Samar.

Team InterAksyon had a picnic in what seemed to be a beach resort that was completely destroyed by Yolanda and where the Norwegian ICRC set up camp.

DSCF1756They have a hi-tech porta-let (the zip-up tent-toilet), portable lavatory and a solar-shower, which i think collects water from the atmosphere to provide water for bathing, and another solar-powered thing that collects water for drinking.

The view and the location is perfect for our Scandinavian friends. It’s like living in a tropical paradise complete with coconut trees, warm sand, and beautiful sunsets everyday. If only the circumstances were different…

While we were having lunch, we got a chance to chat with two of the ICRC-Norway’s supervisors (and for the life of I cannot remember how to spell their names so I won’t attempt to write it here).

“Nice view you have here. I think this used to be a beach resort,” I said.

“Yes. We chose well so we can encourage our staff to stay longer,” he replied.

Marabut has had several beach resorts dotting its coastline, which are now wiped out by the typhoon. The town is also blessed with limestone/rock formations, reminiscent of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, which are still picturesque post-Yolanda.

Photo courtesy of Samartours.blogspot.com

Our Norwegian friend here told me that the owner of the beach resort offered them the place so they can have somewhere to unwind after work and where they can appreciate the beauty that has enticed local and foreign tourists alike to come to Marabut. Back in Basey, Olav Aasland, the Red Cross team leader in the town’s make-shift district hospital, told me they plan to stay for 4 months and hopefully by that time the Department of Health could already take over the healthcare needs of the Samarnons.

I think this resort…

Photo courtesy of Samartours.blogspot.com

…is now this:

And another aid agency is also camping out here.

So I hope our friends from ICRC and other agencies enjoy (albeit I know it’s rather difficult under the current circumstance) the raw beauty of Samar.


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life in business journalism

crazy. exciting. boring to some but hey, you get to understand the world better when you're a business journalist. you learn to be patient with tons of documents, make sense of numbers and charts. all geeky stuff. this is my story, behind the scenes.
December 2013
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