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Visiting communities affected by Typhoon Odette in Palawan

Typhoon Odette (internationally known as Rai) was the second most damaging cyclone in Philippine history after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan in 2013). Typhoon Odette struck in December 2021 and destroyed many areas that were off the Philippine "typhoon belt", and therefore had little experience with addressing emergencies. This is one consequence of climate change: intensifying cyclones with stronger wind speeds and heavier rainfall traversing atypical paths. These changes do not automatically lead to disasters, but they contribute to increased disaster risk.

Carabao and their owners meet on a dirt road lined with coconut trees and banana plants in post-Odette San Vicente, Palawan.

I recently visited San Vicente, Palawan, one of the towns that was struck by Typhoon Odette. The was visit was part of an ongoing project with the Community Engagement Office of Earth Observatory of Singapore on food-related experiences and memories during disaster. I had a different field site in mind for the project, but while on a Christmas holiday trip to San Vicente with friends, I was struck by the ways in which residents brought up their experience of Odette without prompting. The physical landscape was often the prompt: fallen trees, large cracks along a road, the frame of a destroyed home abandoned by its owners.

I decided to return to San Vicente for the Earth Observatory project, which included some provisions to assist the community. Disaster recovery can take years, long after media interested has died down. In the Philippines where an average of 60% local government disaster budgets are allocated to disaster relief, the meagre resources left for more long-term disaster management activities translates to protracted recovery processes. I wasn't surprised to meet residents who were still repairing their roofs more than one year after the storm, including the owners of the apartelle in which I was booked.

The damaged roof of my apartelle being repaired by local panday (craftsmen) more than one year after Typhoon Odette struck. Photo by Minda Ponce-Rodriguez.

The modest assistance provided by Earth Observatory was much appreciated. I worked with community leaders Minda Monica Ponce-Rodriguez & Jan Paul Rodriguez, Indigenous/Tagbanua leader Miss Thelma, and student leader Princess Mae Selim to deliver various forms of aid to three groups affected by Typhoon Odette, and later, Typhoon Paeng in 2022, as well as a college dormitory fire that displaced many Indigenous scholars and students from island towns.

The assistance included: - cooking equipment and utensils to 27 Palawan State University students who lost all their belongings in a dormitory fire - rice, packaged food, and medicines for Tagbanua and upland residents affected by Typhoon Paeng - tarpaulins for rice farmers affected by Typhoon Odette

A collage of our various relief activities in San Vicente for farmers, upland families and students.

Gratitude to the various San Vicente shopkeepers who gave us substantial discounts upon learning we were purchasing goods for relief. Truly a community effort.

More later on my food and disaster project with the Earth Observatory, which should have its own website soon.

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