TACLOBAN CITY – Five people died including a 10-month-old infant while over 400 people were stricken with acute watery diarrhea in an outbreak of cholera in this city caused by water coming from a polluted creek.

The Tacloban City Health Office (TCHO) reported that as of Friday, October 27, a total of 344 cases have already been reported, 228 of them were residents of Barangay 106, an outskirt city 15 kilometers from the city proper where at least four housing resettlement projects were constructed for those displaced by typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

The patients experienced symptoms like vomiting, loose bowel movement and fever, which the doctors say are associated with cholera.

Records from TCHO show that of the 344 cases, 255 are recuperating at home, 98 were brought to the hospitals and nine have recovered. Over 100 patients also sought treatment in different health facilities over the weekend.

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez says he was alerted of the high cases of acute watery diarrhea last October 16 when many patients were brought to Eastern Visayas Medical Hospital (EVMC) and Tacloban City Hospital for treatment.

On Thursday, the Department of Health regional office confirmed cases of cholera after 10 of the 12 samples tested at the EVMC were found positive of the bacteria based on a cholera culture test.

In ensuing water quality tests in Barangay 106, TCHO identified a polluted creek and a deep well that were made as the source of household water in at least three relocation sites for people displaced by typhoon Yolanda as the source of cholera outbreak in the city that resulted to at least four people dead.

TCHO chief Dr. Danilo Ecarma said quality testing in Barangay 106 of raw water at the source, the processed water, and on the pipes leading to households were all found positive of total coliform and Escherichia coli or E. Coli, a bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.

Ecarma said bottled water in a water refilling station found inside the village was likewise tested positive of both total coliform and E.Coli. “We have concluded that the problem started at the water processing plant,” Ecarma said.

The water in the village is provided by Cebu-based Mactan Rock Industries, Inc., which won in a competitive bidding last October 2018 to extend water distribution pipes to the city’s northern villages, develop new water sources, set up and repair old pumping stations, set up a new reservoir, and rehabilitate the existing reservoir.

But since it started supplying water to households in 2019, the company has been a subject of complaints from many residents due to often murky and smelly water that drops from the faucets and absence of water service during summer.

Ecarma said no sanitary permit has ever been issued to the company since it started its operation due to its failure to submit to a regular water quality testing. Despite the absence of a sanitary permit, the company continued with an unhampered operation.

“We have been demanding from them to submit a water quality testing result but unfortunately they could not comply so no sanitary permit was issued,” he said.

Barangay 106, one of the most populous villages in the city with an estimated population of 17,000, is the site of four housing projects. Records from the City Housing and Community Development Office show that GMA Kapuso Foundation constructed 398 houses, Habitat for Humanity with 560 housing units, Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers with 28 units and Global Medic 16 units. The village also has 72 core shelters that are occupied with residents.

“This is a big population and hindi pwede na wala silang tubig,” Ecarma said when asked why the company was not closed despite not having a sanitary permit.

But on Wednesday evening, the TCHO and the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) cut the water supply to the village to control the further spread of the bacteria. It also padlocked the Mactan Rock Industries and the water refilling station where cholera-causing bacteria was found among its products.

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez has directed the CDRRMO and the Leyte Metropolitan Water District – Prime Water (LMWD-Prime Water) to regularly deliver potable water to the village until the problem is resolved.

CDRRMO chief Ildebrando Bernadas said the mayor also approved the recommendation to set-up checkpoints on the roads leading to Barangay 106 to monitor deliveries of water to the village and be able to get samples of water for quality testing.

“There are allegations that some of the waters coming from nearby municipalities also have failures in terms of potability certification as well as sanitation,” Bernadas said. The mayor also approved restricting the celebration of the annual fiesta in another relocation site right across Barangay 106 on Saturday. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail October 24-30, 2022 issue)