TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — In a no build-zone in the coastal village of Barangay 31, Pampango, Tacloban City, Nicelda Ilaya lives with her four children in a small room made out of recycled light materials.
Like other families in the neighborhood, the home of the Ilayas has no toilet. Instead, they use the one in her brother-in-law’s house beside the sea. In all, a dozen people wait their turn to use that single toilet.
“Mahirap talaga ‘pag walang sariling CR (comfort room). At nakakailang din kasi dito kami naliligo sa labas ng bahay ng anak kong babae. Siyempre natatakot din baka masilipan, pero mahirap ang buhay e (It is hard without one’s own CR. It is also embarrassing because we have to bathe outside the house of my daughter. Of course we are afraid people may peep, but life is hard),” Nicelda said.
The Ilayas’ situation is unfortunately not unique.
The Department of Health in Eastern Visayas said of the 869,414 households in the region, only 75 percent — or just over 652,000 — have their own sanitary toilets. This means more than 217,300, including the Ilayas, do not.
Data from the Tacloban City Health Office indicate that super typhoon “Yolanda,” which struck the region in November 2013, had further worsened a situation that was far from good in the first place.
That year, 73 percent of Tacloban’s households had access to sanitary toilets, figures from the CHO showed. After Yolanda, which devastated the Leyte capital and killed thousands, the figures plunged to only 63 percent.
While international aid organizations donated communal emergency latrines in the wake of the disaster, these were only good for six months.
The CHO explained that many Yolanda survivors could not rebuild their toilets because they are informal settlers who do not own the lots on which they have built new shelters.
By province, Samar had the least number of households with access to sanitary toilets, 99, 233, or 56 percent of the total of 177,058, the DOH Region 8 said.
Southern Leyte had the most — 84,190 or 90 percent of 93,693.
Access to sanitary toilets in the rest of the region’s provinces, in descending order, was:
- Leyte – 278,344 or 84 percent of 331,499 households
- Biliran – 29,438 or 79 percent of 37,389 households
- Eastern Samar – 80, 030 or 75 percent of 109,439 households
- Northern Samar – 77,143 or 64 percent of 120,341 households
In the town of San Jorge, Samar, the local health office’s Environmental and Occupational Health and Sanitation Services said only 54 percent, or 2,465 of the 3,658 households in 41 barangays have access to sanitary toilets.
Mayor Joseph Grey admitted the local government is hard put to address the problem but blamed his constituents.
“Dati namigay kami ng mga toilet bowl, pero ano ginawa? Ginawang upuan lang. Ang gusto kasi nila pati semento, hollow blocks, ibigay sa kanila. Hindi naman puwede iyon (We used to give them toilet bowls, but what did they do? They used them as chairs. They also asked that they be given cement and hollow blocks. We can’t do that),” he said.
But Belinda Gabin, 52, of Barangay Mombon in the town belies Grey’s claim.
She says they are simply too poor to afford the materials to build toilets. Thus, her family and nine others have to share a single facility for waste disposal.
As for bathing, the females have to make do with a space behind their hut.
“Dito kami naliligo (This is where we bathe,” she said, showing InterAksyon.com the space. “Mahirap ang walang CR, lalo na sa aming mga babae. Pero dahil sa tag-gutom hindi na namin prayoridad ang pagkakaroon ng CR. Nakiki-CR kaming siyam na pamilya sa kapitbahay (It is hard not to have a CR, especially for the females. But because of poverty, having a CR is not a priority. We share a neighbor’s CR with nine other families).”
The DOH regional office is trying to address the problem by purchasing toilet bowls and building public toilets in some municipalities.
DOH regional information officer Ma. Elena Joy Villarosa said P16 million has been allocated for this purpose, both from so-called “Bottom-Up Budgeting” projects and their regular funds.
They also provide water testing kits for local governments to monitor water quality and prevent possible outbreaks of diarrhea, she added.