Typhoon Haiyan has caused such massive damage in the Philippines that the effects will be felt for months if not years. And this is despite the country being in many ways extremely well prepared, since they experience typhoons most years. However, they have never before seen anything on this scale. In fact, it is probable that nobody has: this is thought to be the strongest typhoon to make landfall on record.
The centre of the typhoon was 300 miles wide and ripped straight across the centre of the country, hitting several major cities. Normally, when big typhoons hit land they start to slow down due the friction between the air and the land, but the islands that make up the Philippines had insufficient land mass to do this, and the result was wide-scale destruction.
A city 80% destroyed
The city of Tacloban is around 80% destroyed. Eyewitness accounts from our team on the ground tell of electricity out, terrifying winds and the roof ripped off the building they were sheltering in. The situation we are seeing in the Philippines is reminiscent of what we saw in Aceh and Sri Lanka after the tsunami there in 2004, except that many more people have been caught up in this one: around 11.3 million people, spread across the central Philippines.
Our biggest challenge is logistics: it is always particularly difficult to move quickly when you have massive infrastructural damage – with roads, ports and airports closed, it is hard to get aid to where it needs to be. But we will manage it: we have nearly a century of experience getting aid to those who need it most.
In this case, we will fly as much aid as we can to the nearest viable port, which is Cebu, and then transport it by boat to the many islands that are crying out for it.
Challenges for the short term – and then after that
That is when life will start to get a little easier for the survivors. We are bringing in medical and sanitation equipment, shelter kits and blankets, mobile clinics and vital supplies for new mothers and their babies. The next two or three weeks are vital and we have to show the people on the ground that we are there for them.
Once the immediate needs – for fresh water or medicine or sanitation equipment – are met, it will be vital to stabilise the public health situation and prevent the spread of waterborne disease, the danger of further suffering for people whose livelihoods have been blown or washed away, and the ongoing disruption to children whose homes and schools may have been destroyed. It’s all a challenge, in the short term and after that. But we will rise to it.