Philippines: Hope amidst the ruins of Bohol

16 Oct 2013

16 October 2013, Cebu, Philippines: Medical workers attend to a boy injured in the 7.2 magnitude quake that hit the central-Philippine island of Bohol on 15 October. Up to 3 million people are believed to have been affected. Credit: IRIN/Jason Gutierrez
A joint OCHA/Government assessment team has found severe damage in Carmen, the town at the epicentre of the deadly earthquake that struck the island of Bohol. They also found a doctor determined to deliver for her patients in difficult circumstances.

A joint OCHA/Government assessment team found severe damage in Carmen, the town at the epicentre of the earthquake that shook the central-Philippine island of Bohol on Tuesday (15 October). They also found a doctor who was determined to keep delivering for her patients in extraordinary circumstances.

The earthquake struck Bohol early in the morning, triggering landslides that engulfed entire homes. It ripped apart bridges and tore down centuries-old churches. Current estimates suggest that more than 140 people have been killed, with up to 3 million affected including almost 40,000 who have lost their homes.

The team, including OCHA staff and employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, visited 24 of Carmen’s 29 barangays (neighbourhoods) and found only three injuries and no deaths, although the situation is still critical. More than half of all homes have been damaged or destroyed. As a result, people are now sleeping in the open, without power or access to clean water.

In the grounds of the local health clinic, they met Dr. Josephine Jambonillo, an obstetrician. She was in the clinic when the earthquake struck, tending to four new mothers and their babies. The quake brought the ceiling of the clinic down, but Dr. Josephine managed to get the women and their babies out into the open and to safety.

That was not the end of Dr. Josephine’s day. The stress of the earthquake saw a string of women begin to go into labour throughout the day and night. “We were lucky it is almost a full moon,” she told the OCHA team. “There is no electricity and I worked all night delivering nine babies.”

Some of the mothers gave birth outside the medical unit while others delivered in an ambulance. There are two more mothers waiting to give birth today. By the time the OCHA team arrived, Dr. Josephine had been working non-stop for 24 hours.

“We are in touch with UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund – the agency that has supported the clinic) with a request from Dr. Josephine for emergency lights, antibiotics and obstetrics kits,” said David Carden, OCHA’s Head of Office in the Philippines. “In the midst of the damage, not only did we find there was no life lost in Carmen, but we found new life here.”

The beginnings of a response

In all, more than 30 evacuation centres have been opened and are housing more than 30,000 people. With rainfall expected in the coming days, living conditions are expected to deteriorate.

The Philippines Red Cross has mobilized teams of staff and volunteers to carry out initial assessments and begin to provide assistance. More teams are being readied for deployment. The World Food Programme has pre-positioned stockpiles of food and supplies ready for distribution, and the government has released about US$232,000 to buy relief materials.

Reporting by Orla Fagan, OCHA Philippines