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IWC student leads WASH team for typhoon response

Declan Hearne from Ireland was based in Davao City, Philippines, about eight hours south of Cagayan de Oro where typhoon Washi hit just before Christmas 2011. Almost a year later, Super Typhoon Bopha hit the same region. Declan recounts his experience as he led a WASH team in response to these emergencies.

Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, is normally considered to be outside the typhoon belt, however, for two years in a row the region has been devastated by category 5 typhoons. Typhoon Washi struck northern Mindanao on the 17th December 2011. Torrential rains sent water cascading down the Cagayan de Oro River, bringing chaos and destruction in a matter of hours.

Almost one year later, Mindanao was again reeling in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Bopha, which hit on the 4th December 2012. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and partners are again providing emergency WASH and shelter support for the effected communities. 

Declan Hearne, a water and sanitation consultant for CRS, said, "It was disturbing to witness the devastation of the inner city areas. There were many stories of people being washed up to 40km out to sea, and those who survived did so by clinging to the same logs that did untold damage to their communities.

"The resilience of individuals who survived was inspirational. Many reported feeling that, by surviving, they had been given a second life, and with it they must commit in helping 'bangon' (raise up) their communities.

"Today I had to wash my hands," Declan says ( "I asked a lady who was washing her clothes if I could borrow some soap to wash my hands. She gently poured some powdered detergent onto my hands. I squatted down and started to wash my hands and asked her story...

Typhoon Washi - Declan Hearne"She said she was swept out to sea. Out to Camiguin Island, some 40 miles out to sea. She was picked up the next afternoon. I asked what she felt while out at sea. I can't describe, she said. Her husband and three children were lucky. They had been rescued only about 4km out to sea. God has a strange plan, she said. I have a second life now.

"The day before I met a man who lost all his children and his wife. He was volunteering to help dig a pit latrine. I heard a story of a grandmother who held on to her dead grand daughter until she was bashed against a bridge, when she lost her apo. But she said, I have another chance now.

"Yesterday I heard a story of a man who managed to save many. While adrift out at sea he tied two boats together and collected many of the living from the debris. I have a mission, he said. I have been granted this second life - to serve my fellow men.

"Tomorrow, he said, we must help those who have a second life, find away to sleep at night - without the fear of rain."


Catholic Relief Services

After the floods subsided, a new problem presented itself - how to supply clean water to flood survivors as they flocked to evacuation and relocation sites in Mindanao, a city largely without running water.

CRS Philippines, which is providing tanks and water to people affected by Cagayan de Oro's flash floods in December, helps with several levels of testing to ensure that water labelled for drinking is truly safe.

The simplest test requires a camp leader to collect a water sample in a small, clear bottle. The bottle contains a piece of tissue paper soaked with a mix of chemicals that will react to contaminated water. Water that turns black in 24 hours indicates it has some level of contamination and requires further testing.

"The great thing about this test is that it's a first indicator if something is wrong with the water," Declan said. "When people see the sample turn black, they can request further testing to find out just how contaminated the water is and what is causing the problem."


Text courtesy of Declan Hearne, and Jennifer Hardy (CRS)

Photos courtesy of Declan Hearne


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