Since Typhoon Haiyan left a staggering path of destruction on November 8, 2013, CARE and local partner ACCORD have worked side by side to deliver crucial food aid packages and shelter materials to people affected by the disaster. This is a profile of ACCORD’s Executive Director, Marieta Lupig Alcid.
As a high school teacher in Manila in the 1980s, little did Marieta Lupig Alcid know that her volunteer work in poor communities would lead to a life-changing career shift. “When I realized that I enjoyed my volunteer work more than teaching economics and math, I went to work with a few community based aid agencies, ending up at CARE Philippines in 2007,” said Marieta.
The Philippines topped the list of countries hit by the most natural disasters in a 2011 report by the Centre for Research and Epidemiology of Disasters. “In the Philippines when it comes to disasters, you name it we have it,” remarked Marieta. “Our small archipelago of islands is hit by typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions, storm surges, fires and more.”
She saw her first large-scale disaster in Baguio City, Luzon in 1990. “It was baptism by fire – during my first assignment as a humanitarian worker, I cried a lot and slept in a church that shook with horrible aftershocks each night" Marieta recalls. " It helped a lot that I was with a group of local NGO workers while we struggled to deliver aid after about a week.”
Many of the milestones in her life were matched by disasters.
She married her husband Joed six days after Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. “I had so little contribution to organizing the wedding, I just showed up to say ‘I do’,” she chuckles. “Thank goodness my father is a goldsmith who made the ring and my mother is a seamstress and sewed my wedding dress.” Everyone heard as Joed kept calling her on a two-way radio to make sure he wouldn’t be left at the altar.
In 1995, days after she gave birth to her first daughter Asia,Typhoon Rosing hit Luzon. There was no electricity for about two weeks and she had to constantly fan Asia under a mosquito net.
She credits a supportive family to her success, including her 81-year-old father, who originally had visions of her working in a more stable job, as a bank teller or secretary in the business district of Manila.
Although she has extensive experience in disaster response, her real passion lies in disaster risk reduction. “I first learned about the importance of disaster preparedness after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. We had three or four months before the eruption to launch a massive public information campaign so people understood the dangers and could evacuate."
Not all disasters have that much lead time for proper evacuations. Just after founding ACCORD with the Country Representative of CARE Nederland in the Philippines Celso Dulce in 2010, Marieta was part of the EU assessment team for Typhoon Washi in Mindanao and saw first-hand how collapsed bridges in Bukidnon and flash floods in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro created havoc. “I will always remember with horror seeing bodies being piled in dump trucks two days after Typhoon Bophain 2011," she says.
“Even if you have seen so many, every disaster has a certain element of surprise,” reflects Marieta. “What has really struck me about Typhoon Bopha was that people were begging for food and water. Filipinos are very proud people, so this type of desperation was really difficult to see.”
When she traveled to Leyte shortly after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island, her warm smile turns to a look of sadness as she remembers people in shock trying to stop the car she was traveling in with other members of the rapid assessment team.
With all telephone lines destroyed, frantic people would run up to the assessment team, begging to use their only satellite phone to call family members to tell them they were safe. “I really struggled having to say no, as the battery on the phone was running very low. She remembers a police officer in the evacuation center, who at first felt shy but gathered the courage to slip her a note asking her to call his family. In one day, Marieta patiently took 20 names and numbers from people devastated by Typhoon Haiyna, promising to call their families when she returned to Manila the next day. She kept her word, ensuring that everyone on the list was contacted, and in fact, only one person had already had already heard the good news about their loved one.
There had been many roadblocks with Typhoon Haiyan, from lack of trucks, not enough boats, no fuel and logistical challenges. She felt a sense of huge relief when ACCORD carried out its first food distribution with CARE less than a week after the typhoon.
“The model of CARE working through us as a local partner in the Philippines is effective,” says Marieta. “Working through community-based partners is less costly and builds local capacity. CARE is acting as a mentor to ACCORD, passing along its extensive knowledge to us.”
As Marieta looks to the future, she stresses the importance of preparing authorities to be responsive and especially putting a premium on disaster preparedness for high risk communities. “A study in the early 1990s showed that every dollar invested in disaster risk reduction could save seven dollars in disaster response,” highlights Marieta.
“We really need to be more efficient, to move faster and take advantage of the major resources we have now, as funds pour in from around the world for CARE’s Typhoon Haiyan appeal. We must reserve part of our funds for disaster preparedness programming.” She explains how, if we compare stories from communities that had good disaster preparedness plans to those that did not, much can be learned.
She thought of her own family when she heard the tragic story of a woman her age who lost her only two daughters in the typhoon. “We owe it to our country to prepare for future disasters and strengthen our capacity, so that these tragedies are not repeated.”