Typhoon Haiyan: The response so far and vital lessons for the Philippines recovery

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Typhoon Haiyan not only killed thousands and made millions homeless. It also struck an already poor region, pushing families deeper into poverty, and making them more vulnerable to the next disaster. Governments and individuals have acted generously. Despite serious challenges, the aid response is now expanding. But crucial gaps must still be urgently addressed. And as the long road to recovery begins, the Philippines authorities and the world must increase efforts to tackle poverty, and to reduce the growing risk of climate-related disasters that the Philippines and other countries will face.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING NOTE 7 DECEMBER 2013  A water tank, filled with 10,000 litres of clean fresh water is installed in Maribi, Leyte (December 2013). Anne Wright/Oxfam  TYPHOON HAIYAN The response so far and vital lessons for the Philippines recovery  Typhoon Haiyan not only killed thousands and made millions homeless. It also struck an already poor region, pushing families deeper into poverty, and making them more vulnerable to the next disaster. Governments and individuals have acted generously. Despite serious challenges, the aid response is now expanding. But crucial gaps must still be urgently addressed. And as the long road to recovery begins, the Philippines authorities and the world must increase efforts to tackle poverty, and to reduce the growing risk of climate-related disasters that the Philippines and other countries will face.    2 1 INTRODUCTION On 8 November 2013, Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) became the strongest typhoon to make landfall ever recorded. It was accompanied by a storm surge that smashed through coastal neighbourhoods and farmlands across much of the central Philippines. Preparations and early warnings saved many lives. But, despite that, thousands died and millions were left in need of urgent assistance. Local officials and emergency response teams were themselves initially shaken, as swamps of seawater and jungles of debris created a logistical nightmare for survivors and those trying to assist them. In spite of the extraordinary challenges, a massive relief effort has done well to help millions of people survive and recover. But it needs to expand fast to reach communities, especially in remote rural areas, that have struggled to receive official aid. Yet the repercussions of Typhoon Haiyan go beyond the initial destruction. It has also pushed millions of poor people into deepening debt and destitution  –  making them even more exposed to the next disaster. One month on, national and international support must continue to help families survive now and help them rebuild more resilient communities for years to come  –  years in which the world will face many more frequent extreme weather events. This paper challenges the world to remember the Philippines long after the TV cameras have gone. It provides a snapshot of the humanitarian response’s initial successes and struggles. More importantly, it then sums up the challenges that the Philippines and the international community now face: to fill the gaps in the immediate response; on the long road to recovery from Haiyan; and to plan for and cope with the future disasters (partly driven by climate change) that will hit hazard-prone communities in many countries in the future. Box 1: Oxfam’s response in brief    ã  By 2 December, almost 250,000 women, men, and children had received assistance  –  restoring water supplies, providing clean water and sanitation facilities and items (such as hygiene kits), helping to restore farming and other livelihoods, and food assistance; ã  Current plans are to assist approximately 500,000 people in the Eastern and Central Visayas regions within four months. We thought it was like any ordinary strong typhoon where you just sleep, stay indoors and eat. This was different.   Thelma, a survivor sheltering in Panalaron Elementary School, November 2013 I’m here helping to organize distribution of hygiene and water kits. I’ve  also received a hygiene kit. I cried when I opened the bag. There were so many items. So many things we all need. I’ve shared some of the items with a woman from another barangay. I was really happy to share because their need was greater than mine. Vergie Ochia, Bantayan Island, November 2013   3  4 2 PROGRESS AND GAPS IN THE RESPONSE  As Haiyan approached the Philippines, approximately 800,000 people were evacuated and disaster response personnel and equipment were quickly deployed. Such immediate action by the authorities, aid agencies and local responders helped save many lives and facilitated the subsequent relief effort. Nonetheless, more than 5,600 were killed, over 1,700 people remain missing, and the destruction to homes and infrastructure has been immense. Haiyan was the strongest typhoon to make landfall ever recorded, with wind speeds of 315 kph (195 mph). The accompanying storm surge sent a wave up to five metres high smashing through coastal communities, killing many who thought they were safe. 1  This was a phenomenon that many people did not fully understand and the precise threat from the surge was not communicated by the authorities effectively.  A huge national and international relief effort has supported the immediate local response. The Philippines government, backed by generous and effective support from the international community, has been energetic in its leadership and co-ordination of a huge and complex response. And it has been backed by generous and effective support from the international community which, to some extent, has improved its co-ordination significantly since slow responses in Darfur and elsewhere kick-started a series of humanitarian reforms ten years ago. No humanitarian response to a disaster of this scale will be perfect, and this was no exception. Extreme logistical challenges often hindered and delayed the relief, but by 1 December: 2   ã  An estimated three million people had received food assistance including rice, high energy biscuits and emergency food items; ã More than 35,000 households had received tarpaulin sheets or tents (particularly in Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces) with efforts to reach another 478,000 households under way; and ã  About 80 per cent of people still in Tacloban City had access to clean water and about 60,000 hygiene kits had been distributed. This and other aid  –  including health care, services to protect children, and cash transfers  –  have helped keep families alive, prevented outbreaks of disease, and begun to help people to rebuild their lives. In the context of Haiyan’s severity and the logistical challenges it created, these are notable successes. Many storms have  passed here. But we did not expect a storm that brought a ‘tsunami’ with it. We only know of rain and wind. We did not expect the sea would devour the land. Mother of two in fishing community, November 2013
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