Human dignity in evacuation centres

If I were a decision-maker in the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), given the choice between martial arts training for personnel or training in the Sphere Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, and in view of budgetary constraints, I’d choose the latter. The justification is that, in the long term, when people in the Metro see that the MMDA genuinely care about them for better or worse, they’d embrace MMDA personnel instead of assault them. The latter is therefore the strategic choice.

There are still plenty of families in evacuation centers, in Metro Manila and Laguna. The sight in public or government-evacuation centres is a glaring testimonial of the neglect of LGUs of their role in ensuring that minimum quality standards in emergency operations are complied with, such as in evacuation centre management. (Private sector-managed evacuation centres are better managed, an irony considering that humanitarian policies and laws emanate from the public sector. Private companies at least provide a tent hence privacy for each evacuee-family on their private compounds or lots.)

Below are photos of an evacuation centre in San Pedro (Laguna). By visual inspection alone, you’d know that the centre does not meet quality standards. From inside the vehicle, the first thing I noticed were the clothes – they were everywhere as if there was a major yard sale going on. For a second then I got disoriented because I thought we arrived at the wrong covered court. But it was the right place. Inside the centre, the sight screamed ‘disaster.’ You can’t see the dignity of human beings upheld in there. There was complete lack of order, in the physical, social, and psychological sense. You don’t have to be formally taught what a poor quality evacuation centre is because you recognize it through instinct here. Near the stage, just outside the exit, are three portalets. How do a hundred or so people divide 24 hours among them so that each can use the facility within the day without being hurried?

We got back in the vehicle, silenced. I believed we were thinking and feeling the same thing – we had air-conditioning in the car and that we were returning to relative privacy and comfort in our hotel rooms. Should we give up our hotel rooms and sleep over with them? After a while a former colleague broke the silence and in a bright tone said, “I believe the centre is a fun place at night. Did you see the mani-pedi service in there?” This is precisely why my best friends are male. I love their kind of humor. I guess the point of the humor is that we can better think about how to make a difference when emotions that have fogged up our capacity to think have dissipated.


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