Philippine health officials have expressed concern over the risk of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases following days of extensive flooding - and at least 15 deaths - in the north of the country.
“These are the usual complaints we receive when we hold consultations in evacuation centres,” Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona told IRIN on 21 August, noting that diarrhoea and skin infections related to flooding were top concerns, along with fever, headaches, coughs and colds, and wounds.
Children were often the victims of water-borne diseases, especially diarrhoea, said Resty Macuto, chief of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Operations Office within the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the government agency running the evacuation centres.
“It’s going to be a problem if the evacuation is prolonged. But they are being properly monitored by the Department of Health and social workers of the DSWD,” Macuto added.
Of particular concern is an outbreak of Leptospirosis - a bacterial infection caused by contact with water contaminated by rat and other animal urine - similar to what happened in 2009 when tropical storm Ketsana struck.
“Yes, we are concerned this will happen again,” said Eric Tayag, Department of Health assistant secretary and chief epidemiologist.
More than one million people were affected by the flooding after Tropical Storm Trami (locally known as Maring) enhanced the southwest monsoon rains starting on 18 August on the northern island of Luzon, including the capital Manila, a megacity of more than 12 million, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
One month’s average rainfall for August was recorded in a single day with 475.4mm at Sangley Point in Cavite Province, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration reported.
Of those affected, nearly 133,000 people are now in 425 shelters, while nearly 150,000 people are staying with relatives and friends, the NDRRMC’s latest situation report said on 21 August.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been no reports of disease outbreaks, but the situation is being closely monitored and preventive measures are being implemented.
“The government, including the Department of Health, has increased its level of preparedness and is responding well in support of local authorities,” said David Carden, head of the Manila office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Rescue and relief
According to the Philippine Red Cross, evacuation, rescue and relief operations are continuing.
"Our volunteers on the ground are also undertaking door-to-door visits to households at risk and advising them to leave immediately because we want every life saved," said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross. "We have deployed 14 search and rescue teams, equipped with 14 rescue boats, which will continue with operations in assigned areas until all trapped people are out of harm's way," she said.
Monsoon rains fuelled by Trami prompted a massive rescue and relief response by the Red Cross as floods swamped the capital as well as several nearby provinces on Luzon.
Local media reports suggest more than half of Manila was flooded, though the floodwater - up to 2 metres deep in some places - has already begun to subside.
At the government’s request, the Philippine Humanitarian Country Team is currently supporting government relief efforts in camp coordination and management, along with food logistics and sanitation, OCHA said.
While some people have begun to return home, most of the displaced are expected to do so only when more favourable weather conditions develop, DSWD reported.
The Philippines (population over 100 million) experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year from June to December, and storms have been strengthening in recent years.
This week’s flooding in Manila recalled memories of Tropical Storm Ketsana, which in 2009 flooded 80 percent of the city and claimed more than 460 lives.