In the Eye of the Storm

By Elísa María Oddsdóttir and Cathrine Selnes Nakken

Imagine…The terrifying storm has calmed and you have survived, you stand there in the middle of the so-called “town” – your former hometown. Now it is ruined, gone, collapsed. You cannot see any houses standing anymore, there are pieces of wood everywhere, people are crying and searching for their loved ones. You cannot find your family members, friends, pets or belongings. You have no food, no adequate drinking water, no shelter or home to go back to, no sanitation facilities or money. You are in shock, confused, extremely hungry and thirsty, and your only clothes are the ones you are wearing – and if you are lucky, you have some shoes on.

This was the situation for many Filipino people the 8th of November 2013 when Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to hit land, reached the Philippines.

The UN World Meteorological Organization reports this to be one of the strongest typhoon ever recorded. It hit land with winds as strong as 215 kilometres per hour. The typhoon is recorded to already have affected more than 11.8 million people, displaced over 921,200, destroyed around 243,000 houses and killed around 4,500 people.

The changes in the social conditions and environmental systems (water supplies, food yields, agriculture, infrastructure etc.) after an extreme weather disaster can have certain health risks. For example, there can be an increase in deaths, injuries and disabilities, increased risk for infectious diseases (e.g. diarrhoea, salmonella and cholera) and increased malnutrition and mental health disorders. Immediate help to try to reduce all the direct health consequences and aid to begin rebuilding the communities’ capacity is therefore essential.

What have international organizations been doing to help the Philippines after the typhoon hit?

  • The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies applied for 94.6 million dollars to provide families with clean water, food, shelter and other essentials over a period of 18 months.
  • The United Nations has also asked for almost a third of a billion dollars to humanitarian assistance to those affected by the typhoon, which will cover  period of six months. The UN and their partners are supporting the local Government and other responders in their efforts to assess the situation and respond rapidly with supplies such as clean water, food, shelter and medicines, through the coordination system led by the local authorities.
  • The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is also making use of satellite phones with GPS (Global Positioning System) to facilitate search and rescue efforts.Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 4.15.03 AM
  • The World Food Programme (WFP) has sent over 2,500 metric tons of high-energy biscuits, and they are also looking at other options to stabilize the situation.
  • The World Health Organization have assisted the Government to set up field hospitals, as personnel and medical supplies are arriving to the country.
  • The International Labour Organization, (ILO), has organized emergency employment and ‘cash-for-work’ programmes and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has also begun to support the Government in the reconstruction process in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors.

Though these are few of many aid actions that different organizations are making, there are several issues that organizations will be facing when entering a crisis zone, like the Philippines. For instance, safety, non- and/or little cooperation between organizations or overlapping each other and damages to countries infrastructure will make it difficult to deliver aid to the most vulnerable.

Weather disasters such as this typhoon, are more rapidly and with greater intensity hitting land in parts of the world. It has been indicated that populations and health systems may not be able to cope with these increases in the frequency and intensity when such extreme weather events occur.

“They are showing great courage and resilience, but they need our help – and they need it now and they need it fast,” said Valerie Amos, Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN about the situation in the Philippines.

Therefore, there is no doubt that international cooperation, in unison with local government efforts is necessary when confronting the severe consequences of disasters such as this. Acute help can make a huge difference in reducing mortality and morbidity, but rebuilding a community takes many years – and it will sadly never be the same again. It will be coloured with effects of the disaster, losses of loved ones and many survivors will suffer with physical and psychological issues for years to come.

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