Aid organizations are struggling through blocked roads and devastated airports to bring relief to the Philippines. But past experience suggests that even tougher tasks lie ahead for the country.
Three days after Typhoon Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – ravaged the region, the extent of the devastation is only beginning to emerge. But even the official estimates of up to 10,000 deaths will likely increase, because more remote parts of the country are still inaccessible.
Several parts of the Philippines – Leyte Island, Samar island, and the northern end of Cebu, to the west – which were in the path of the storm, are yet to be accessed fully. Relief organizations have reported widespread chaos, and communications down across the country – with international help already on its way.
One reader from the town of President Roxas on Panay Kabisaayan, contacted DW via Facebook to say, “Until now we don’t have electricity, all the networks is down, no communications from my family.”
“My whole life, there’s never been a storm like this that devastated Iloilo this much and this quick,” one woman told a worker for US-based relief organization Mercy Corps. “We are not new to big storms and every year we get 20 or so, and every year they cause some damage, but in my 53 years, Iloilo has never been hit this bad.”
The devastation has made relief efforts extremely difficult, with blocked roads and damaged airports making even the shortest journeys almost impossible. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that they had sent relief teams to Cebu Island on November 9.
“They have not yet been able to assess the full extent of the needs as access to the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan is extremely difficult,” MSF said in a statement. “Tacloban airport has been destroyed, many of the roads are blocked and it is almost impossible to make telephone calls.”
As well as additional personnel, MSF is also sending cargo planes carrying 200 tons of aid, including medical kits, tetanus vaccines, and tents, which is due to arrive in the next three days.
The Philippine Red Cross, meanwhile, has deployed three teams in Samar, Leyte and Capiz, as well as water-borne search and rescue teams in Olongapo. But the Red Cross is also experiencing severe difficulties. “As of this morning communication lines in Leyte were still down, flood waters were approximately 10 feet high,” its operation center said in a statement. The Red Cross has also advised those trying to reach loved ones to contact the PRC Social Services Department.
Many experts have already compared the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which claimed 275,000 lives across Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Analysts are also suggesting that lessons can be learned from such comparisons.
Martin Mulligan, chief investigator for a research project conducted for Australian relief organization AusAID, said that while organizations had become good at supplying short-term relief, the example of the 2004 tsunami showed that reconstruction efforts were more problematic. “I’m not convinced that the disaster response ‘industry’ has learned the lessons on how to rebuild devastated communities,” he told news agency AFP.
Some observers also pointed out that the desperate rush to send aid can turn into a problem in itself. “Typically, the well-meaning efforts of communities around the world result in an unmanageable influx of all kinds of goods into disaster zones and this creates a log jam in ports and airports that disables more targeted disaster relief,” Paul Arbon, director of the Australian government-run Torrens Resilience Institute, told AFP.
“Aid organisations undoubtedly have more to learn from post-tsunami success stories about how to work within traumatised communities in order to ensure that aid funding is well targeted and effective,” Mulligan added.
As is often true of natural disasters, the most difficult period for the people of the Philippines will likely come with the reconstruction, when corruption and mismanagement diverts money sent by governments and charities – and international interest fades.