We’ve had a few sunny days here in the Philippines to finish harvesting the rice. Our fields are on high ground, so the main problems we face are finding a dry day to cut and thresh the rice, and a rice mill to dry it.

Usually in our area, rice is dried in the hot sun. During harvest season, driving on rural roads is complicated by rice drying on the roadways, on tarps at the edges of the road, and in every church/school parking lot. But when it rains a lot, there is a danger that the damp grain will not properly dry and become ruined.

Other rural areas were not so lucky: The harvest, which had been predicted to be huge, was ruined by the rain and flooding in many areas.

You mainly hear about those in shelters, but the majority of the displaced went to families or friends homes during the flooding. The sun is now out, and they are going home.

The devastation in Manila is terrible, but the rural devastation is just as bad.

The Philippine Inquirer reported over 4 million displace in the Manila area from the first typhoon, but 3.8 million in Norther Luzon who were displaced by the second typhoon. Most will go home and repair their houses, but a staggering half a million squatters will have to be relocated, some because their shantytowns are uninhabitable, and others because they built their houses on open land around waterways that will probably flood again and again.

Another complication of the floods is an outbreak of Leptospirosis, a bacteria spread via rodent feces and urine. You catch it by wading through flood waters that have been contaminated.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but often starts with “flu like” symptoms (aches and pains and fever), which can be confused with viral influenza or dengue. Later, when jaundice and rash appear, it may be too late to prevent complications that can be fatal. So far, over 80 deaths and over 1000 cases have been reported, and the government is arranging that one million people being treated with antibiotics to prevent more cases.

But of course other “common” diseases like diarrhea, ordinary colds, H1N1 influenza are also a danger, because they are more likely to spread from person to person in crowded conditions.

And another worry: Dengue. This mosquito borne disease is endemic here, with a few hundred deaths a year, and usually worse in the wet season. But now there is a worry that water puddles will allow mosquitos to breed, and an increase in cases.

Long term, one worries about the farm land and lost harvests. True, the government will arrange to buy cheap rice from other countries and sell it to the poor to prevent outright starvation.

What saves people is the extended family system: often there is a daughter who is working in the US as a nurse, or a son working in the oil fields of Saudi who sends back a paycheck that means the difference between abject poverty and having enough to eat and the school fees paid, so that the next generation has a chance to improve themselves.

In our area (the central Luzon plain), there is extensive irrigation so that farmers will get a second crop, so all might not be lost this year.

Most of the farmers will get small business loans to buy seeds and manage a second harvest, but some will simply give up and move to Manila to look for work.

The bad news today is that there is another typhoon off the east coast, and it has stopped moving, but is getting stronger. Will it hit the already devastated areas in Northern Luzon, or turn north to devastate Taiwan?

No one is sure, but this time, they are opening the irrigation dams early (some of the local flooding was blamed on delaying opening the dams until the heavy rain hit, thereby saving people from collapsed dams but increasing local flooding).


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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