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Building Back Safer After Super Typhoon Egay

In a northern Philippine province, a woman and her community’s story of coming together and rebuilding safer houses

When Super Typhoon Egay (international name: Doksuri) struck the Philippines in July 2023, its rapid intensification took many by surprise. It dumped more than a month’s worth of rain in two days, damaged some 56,000 houses, and affected three million people. 

Miriam Bisares, 31, lost her home and almost all possessions. She lives with her husband and three children in a barangay (village) by a river in Abra, one of the worst-hit provinces. Running to safety that day was not easy. Her two older kids, ages 14 and 12, were ill with chicken pox and had to be carried. The flood submerged the paths to higher ground, so they had to cut a way through a thick tangle of grass and shrubs.

Today, her community remembers it as a difficult time, but alongside memories of the trials are ones of coming together and rebuilding. And despite the challenges, women like Miriam demonstrated capable leadership, playing a crucial part in helping her community learn how to become more resilient by building safer homes, with support from the European Union Humanitarian Aid and the ACCESS Project.

In the 14 years Miriam’s family had lived in Barangay Sao-atan in Bangued, Abra Province, they hadn’t experienced flooding as destructive as Super Typhoon Egay.

Their old shack—made of light materials and located a few meters away from the edge of a river cliff—was swept away completely. 

Recovery was hard. She occasionally finds work in sales as a “push girl” and “promodiser;” her husband is a merchandiser at a food manufacturing company but is not yet a regular employee.

That Barangay Sao-atan lies next to a river is both a blessing and a burden: on the one hand, residents get to plant crops on its fertile banks; on the other, it makes the village flood-prone.

The river also serves as a source of water for household use. During the rainy season, however, the water becomes murky and unusable. During dry spells, the river contracts, and residents have to climb down and up the steep river cliff while balancing one or two buckets.

At around 10 A.M., the water rose quickly. Amidst heavy rain and howling winds, Miriam’s family left their house and sought temporary shelter in this hut, which sits on slightly higher ground, further away from the river. 

By 6 P.M., the water was at their feet again. With a big knife, they slashed a path through the bushes to escape.

Months after the typhoon, damaged plastic “durabox” cabinets, scrubbed clean of mud and left to dry out in the sun, still litter the village.

Miriam’s family lost almost everything. Fortunately, her eldest had the presence of mind to save important documents, such as birth certificates, and even her parents’ high school diplomas.

When the floodwaters receded, cleanup—a collective community endeavor—commenced. Miriam and her family stayed with a relative for one month. Thanks to another relative, who owned an unproductive lot in an elevated part of the village and who let Miriam and other neighbors rebuild their houses on it, those affected by the flood were able to start anew in a safer location.

Through the ACCESS Project, Miriam and other residents severely affected by the typhoon received shelter assistance through repair kits and training sessions on how to build back safer. The project encouraged the community to work together to rebuild each other’s homes.

It also formed a shelter roving team, a group of community members that ensured houses were repaired or rebuilt properly. As part of the team, Miriam became well-versed in Building Back Safer (BBS) principles. She can explain why having strong bracing, interlocking joints, anchored posts, and other BBS techniques are key to building safer homes.

Miriam and her family moved into their new house a month before Christmas. 

Malaki ang pagbabago. Safe at komportable kami dito. Hindi na kami nangangamba na maaabutan ng tubig kung sakaling may bagyo (It’s a huge difference. We’re safe and comfortable here. We don’t worry about the water reaching us in the event of a typhoon).”

– Miriam (Bangued, Abra)

The project also provided water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance by building a water system and holding hygiene promotion activities. There are shaded benches near the water system where women sometimes congregate, working on chores together, or just staying for a chat.

“Sabi ng mga matatanda, himala daw na may tubig na kami dito. Dati na kasing problema yan (The elders say it’s a miracle we now have water here. That was always a problem),” says Miriam. 

These days, Miriam and her husband are focused on taking care of the children. He cooks for them before leaving for work; she walks them to and from school.

Asked what aspirations she has for the family, she says, “Pangarap ko na mapatapos silang tatlo sa pag-aaral para maganda ang kinabukasan nila (I hope we can support the three of them so they can finish school and have a better future.”

ACCESS gave shelter assistance to some 1,650 individuals and repaired 530 houses across the provinces of Abra and Cagayan. The project is funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and implemented by ACCORD Inc., Action Against Hunger Philippines, Humanity and Inclusion Philippines, Community Organizers Multiversity, and CARE Philippines.

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