Return from Manila - Dr. Scholber reports

by Dr. Christian Scholber,  2009/10/07

Sent out by humedica, Dr. Scholber arrived in Manila last week together with three other humedica-volunteers. He wrote down his experiences following tropical storm “Ketsana” in this report:

There is a foul stench in the air that burns in your nose and is absorbed by your clothes. The streets are covered in knee-high, putrid mud with remains of furniture, garbage and animal cadavers scattered in it. Overturned cars are scattered at the sides of the road, as if a crazy giant had been ravaging in town. A dented, mud covered fridge hanging on a power pole.

Chaos ruled the streets. Foto: humedica/ Christian Stolber

On Saturday, the 26th of September, cyclone “Ketsana” (“Ondoy”) had swept through the northern Philippines causing the worst flooding in decades. Water and mud slides swamped the lower parts of the metropolis of Manila inundating them up to the second floor.

As one member of a humedica-team of four, I had set off for Manila on Monday, 28th of September, equipped with medical instruments and drugs in order to provide medical aid for the people in the most severely affected poor quarters of Manila, in cooperation with our partner on the spot, Scandinavian Children’s Mission (SCM).

The mayor of Marikina City showed us to our first treatment room: an open basketball gym that, in a hurry, had been at least partly cleaned of mud and debris. On this day, our team (two doctors, one nurse and a coordinator) was supported by two Philippine doctors.

humedica-members are helping people in cooperation with local medical staff and SCM. Foto: humedica/ Christian Scholber

The nurses and volunteers of Children’s Mission set up makeshift, but nevertheless professional treatment stations, Philippine soldiers ensured that order was maintained and helped with registering and translating.

Patients, among them many children, suffered from respiratory infections, diarrhoea and asthma. Besides, one of the major ailments consisted in cut injuries on the feet which had happened while people had been wading through the debris-filled muddy brew. Many patients suffered from skin infections, some of which have already begun to spread. Almost all of the patients had caught a foot fungus.

The next day, we set up a treatment station in an evacuation centre, a school that had been transformed into a shelter for those whose homes had turned completely inhabitable. There, people live huddled together on limited space. The hygienic problems that arise from such a mass shelter are obvious. Smelling garbage everywhere. Barefoot and with their bare hands, garbage workers tried to get the situation under control.

In the meantime, an attempt has been started to collect the enormous heaps of rubble and garbage left by the cyclone and transport them to a main road on the outskirts of the town.

The mountains of waste are growing. Foto: humedica.

On that road that has been half-closed, the waste is stored temporarily. The smell is unimaginable. It seems that the waste dump, which is also home to some people, is insufficient for these huge amounts of waste and then the rubbish is still too wet to be burnt.

On Saturday, we were condemned to inactivity due to approaching cyclone “Pepeng” (“Parma”). People were afraid that Manila would be hit again by this super cyclone, which was expected to be even stronger than the first one. All the time, warning announcements and recommendations for action were broadcast on TV.

After people had been panic buying, the shops were empty and there was an eerie silence on the otherwise busy streets. Fortunately, “Pepeng” spared the city of Manila, which only got some harmless wind and rain.

The next day of treatment brought us to Taytay, a quarter of the city that had been affected very severely by ‘Ketsana’. In this poor area, people live either in plain stone houses or in the numerous shanties and huts made of wooden slats and plastic tarps.

People here call these overpopulated parts of the city, where hygiene is a problem, „high density areas”. Large parts of Taytay are still under water and it is feared that it will stay like this till December.

Everything that can float is being used as a raft. Foto: humedica/ Christian Scholber

People have built rafts with whatever material was suitable: wood slats, plastic items, roof parts. Empty canisters that are mounted on the sides provide flotation. We also saw a converted bathtub. For a small fee, these rickety vehicles are pushed through the dirty water by their captains. Those who cannot afford the fee have to wade through the sometimes breast-high mud.

In a tiny church, where the water reached up to the threshold, we held a surgery. Keeping our equipment dry during the transport was not an easy task. We were supported by members of the Free protestant Church who had informed us about the misery of the people living in this area.

The members of the church, a German pastor and his wife, a physiotherapist and volunteers from Germany had all been affected by the flooding themselves, some of them had lost everything and their lives had been in serious danger. Now, they distributed rice and water to the people around. Like on the former days of treatment, people mainly suffered from respiratory and skin infections. In addition to that, many children suffered from severe, purulent ear inflammations, caused by the filthy water.

On the same evening, I returned to Germany according to schedule. My work was taken over by a colleague from Portugal, who arrived in Manila few hours later. The humedica relief project, which, in the meantime, has received financial support from the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, will be continued until the middle of November. This will be absolutely necessary since the most severe consequences of the water pollution are to be expected during the weeks to come.

Dr. Christian Scholber is being shipped through the flooded streets. Foto: humedica.

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