Q+A: Aid agencies on Typhoon Haiyan challenges

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 14 November 2013 17:32 GMT

Philippine Red Cross workers set up a counter at the lobby of Leyte Park Hotel, a seaside resort which is partly converted into a service centre for the red cross in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban November 14, 2013. . REUTERS/Bobby Yip

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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thomson Reuters Foundation hosted a live online debate with aid agencies on Thursday about challenges of relief efforts in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Here are some quotes from the discussion.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thomson Reuters Foundation hosted a live online debate with aid agencies on Thursday about challenges of relief efforts in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Here are some quotes from the discussion.

What are the logistical challenges in delivering aid to the survivors? 

“Firstly, the geographical area hit by Haiyan is extensive and includes several islands, multiplying the potential for logistics constraints on operations. Secondly, the level of destruction - this typhoon wiped out all key infrastructure making it impossible to bring supplies in. (…) When you are the most disaster-prone country in the world, supplies should be readily available. Unfortunately that was not the case - as most supplies had been used in two previous emergencies in recent months” - Kirsten Mildren, regional information officer, Asia Pacific, UN OCHA

 “Every emergency is different and brings different challenges. In this case, a lot of islands are affected and Manila remains the hub, so all the relief support is going to Manila as an operational airport is not available in Tacloban” – Raul Rodriguez, head of disaster response at Plan International

 “I think it’s hard to overestimate the scale of this disaster. The aid response will have to be far bigger than most people are prepared to imagine at the moment. In some ways we are sleep-walking into disasters like this one. Poor people live in shanty towns and villages crowded along the coast while more extreme and unpredictable weather hammers the country” – Leonard Doyle, head of digital media, International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

 Where are the survivors staying and how are they coping?

“(There are) massive needs in emergency shelter with 500,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Tents and tarpaulins will come first followed by shelter kits - materials and tools to help families rebuild. In Philippines people are incredibly resourceful and where they can they will be starting to rebuild their homes so getting basic items like tarpaulins as temporary roof coverings is vital” - Patrick Fuller, Asia Pacific spokesman for the Red Cross (IFRC) 

“Many people only stay at evacuation centres at night. During the day they return to their homes and try to rebuild with whatever materials they can find” - Isabelle Ereñeta, education officer at ChildFund in the Philippines

 “Getting people out of the elements is a huge priority and that is why its important to get shelter kits to families as fast as possible” – IOM’s Doyle

 “In order to identify those in need, it is important to conduct a rapid needs assessment. At Plan, we are prioritising children, pregnant women and vulnerable families.” - Plan International’s Rodriguez

What is the current security situation?

“Most people are simply desperate and incidents of armed robbery shouldn't be confused with desperate and hungry people looting food stores when they have no option. As food arrives in sufficient volume the situation will stabilise” - IFRC’s Fuller

“I think the media is blowing up the security situation. The security incidents to date should not delay humanitarian delivery. This (incidents of looting) has happened in other countries after disasters of this scale. Its not a reflection of anything other than desperation” - UN OCHA’s Mildren

“The latest word from UNDSS (United Nations Department of Safety & Security) is that the early episodes of looting have ended, apart from one incident which lead to deaths the situation is remarkably calm with people waiting patiently for aid and water - this is seen as a good sign” - IOM’s Doyle 

How are the survivors coping with the lack of medical assistance?

 “Health services in many places simply aren't functioning. Medical centres and their staff have been directly affected so Red Cross is bringing in two fully equipped basic health units to set up in areas that are not being serviced. These are fully staffed and equipped. Poor nutrition, coupled with dirty water and trauma is a recipe for a secondary health disaster” - IFRC’s Fuller

What measures are taken to protect children? 

“In addition to ensuring that children and their families have emergency shelter, clean drinking water and medical supplies, Plan’s work will focus on protecting children in this emergency, as well as getting children into temporary education. Child protection is also an issue and they are at risk of violence, abuse and trauma, so we are focusing our efforts on reducing these threats to children. We know a lot of schools were destroyed and we need to put measures in place to get children back into education. This will take some time. We are planning to provide access to informal education at the shelter centres, with topics focusing on a peaceful environment, hygiene behaviours as well as games and psycho social support” - Plan International’s Rodriguez

How can response to disasters of this scale be improved in the future?

"To avoid duplication, coordination is a vital aspect of this kind of disaster. It is important to go to the cluster meetings and the global outreach meetings and be aware of what everyone is doing in the field. This will ensure people are getting the relief and support they need. For many years, our priority (has been) on building community resilience because this is the way to reduce the impact of the disaster. Also, the first responders during the first 72 hours of this kind of disaster (are members of) the community itself. If they are well prepared, more lives will be saved” - Plan International’s Rodriguez 

“An important issue is international disaster response law. Governments need the legislation in place to facilitate international aid in major emergencies. Its really encouraging that the Government here (in the Philippines) has set up a 'one stop shop' to clear relief goods coming in within 24 hours. Coordination and the need to establish partnerships between NGO's and humanitarian agencies were important lessons learned after the 2004 tsunami. Maximise resources, minimise duplication” - IFRC’s Fuller


What challenges does Typhoon Haiyan pose for aid agencies?

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