Women in Disaster-prone Areas

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Posted December 30, 2017 from Philippines

My family and I recently survived the Tropical Storm Kai-Tak ( locally named Urduja). On December 17, 2017, this slow-moving typhoon left the country with landslides, flashnfloods and damages in infrastructure with around fifty casualties and twenty missing.

Just a few days before Christmas, cyclone Tembin (locally named Vinta), the 22nd typhoon to enter the Philippines this year, expelled an even deadlier wrath. It displaced a total of 70,000 victims, reaping around 300 lives with more than a hundred missing. Many of our countrymen spent their Christmas day retrieving the cold bodies of family members that were buried under muddy soil.

As I write this, another typhoon is about to threatenour country which could possibly fall on New Year's Day. Weather forecasters project that it might follow either Kai-Tak's or Tembin's path.

"The Filipino spirit is storm-proof", this iswhat we say to calm the whirling fear inside us.

Surely, we know when to brace ourselves, and when to enjoy a cool rainy day. We are resilient, true. But we get exhausted, too. In fact, deep inside us we are worried with what another typhoon could do.

Early this year, our family moved in Tacloban City -- the place that was mercilessly devastated by the fiercest cyclone recorded in the world: Super Typhoon Haiyan. My husband, a development worker, secured a job here for the resettlement and livelihood sustainability of the homeless survivors.

My husband and I were prepared when Typhoon Kai-Tak was approaching the city; however, we underestimated its intensity. It was almost stationary as it continued to increase its strength. Due to its unpredictable time of landfall, the possibility of storm surge was considered. The city disaster risk and reduction team advised us to evacuate.

I saw my hands shaking in fear as I hurriedly dressed my four-year-old son and 3-month-old baby. I gathered extra clothes, food, toiletries, utensils, gadgets and chargers for packing. That moment right there I wiped my tears as I felt anger within me for exposing my children to danger.

As a mother, my mind was already preparing for worse. I argued within myself that it would be difficult for me to be swimming in a flood with a baby in my arms. But help was coming, and there was no flood in sight. I calmed down.

I began to ponder how troubled the women in disaster-prone areas were, especially during calamities. I felt their fear, their confusion, their anxiety. At the same time, I imagined their prudence, their fortitude, their gumption.

I thought of these women - the pregnant, the nursing, the menstruating - who deal with discomfort in their bodies but selflessly fighting for the survival of their children, siblings, or elderly parents.

I remembered the women with disabilities, and mothers whose children have special needs. They must be in a more diffult situation as they all together move to a safer place.

I remembered the women who just gave birth, whether naturally or through a caesarian section. Both cases still in pain while getting up and braving the winds of an unwelcomed weather.

My personal panic shifted into admiration for these women who had faced numerous storms in their lifetime. Yearly, an average of twenty typhoons visit the Philippines. In each year of survival, these women become tougher.

When our family arrived at our evacuation place, a two-story house, the flood water was almost knee-deep. As I secured my boys at the second floor, my first instinct was to check the windows for our exit plan in case the water rises higher.

At the height of the typhoon's wrath, I pleaded to God to protect the women and their loved ones, specifically those who are living in flood-prone areas with houses made of light-weighted materials. As I heard the blowing wind forcefully ripping apart the houses' roofs, with windows breaking, and dogs howling, I told God that if my children died in that storm, I would no longer fight to live. At the same time, I would use the little survival skills I have to keep them alive even if it costs me my life. I wondered how many mothers shared the same apprehension I had.

Then I remembered the news about mothers dying to save their children during flashfloods, and one mother who used her body as a cover to save her child when their house collapsed from an earthquake.

Women in disaster areas are heroines in their own right. They are a blend of brave and tender who carry the burden of securing innocent lives, whether inside their vulnerable houses or inside noisy evacuation centers.

They feel afraid, too. But they put a fearless front to ease the tension, tiredness and trauma of their confused children.

They are hungry and thirsty, too. But they can skip a few more meals and drops of drinking water just to feed famished family members.

They get tired, too. But they offer their shoulders as pillows and arms as blankets to provide calming comfort in the midst of the chaos.

These are mothers, sisters and daughters during calamities. I have yet to grasp the perspectives of women rescuers or relief coordinators; nor the terror of women being molested or taken advantage of at evacuation centers.

At present, I may not be given a platform to speak in behalf of the women living in disaster-prone areas, but I have sons to raise. I will inculcate upon them the respect and the rights that belonged to these women.

Now, another storm is moving closer. I wonder how many mothers in this side of the country are perturbed, yet prepared, to face another perpetrator.

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