Skip to main content

Why typhoon response taking so long

By Bob Kitchen
updated 6:08 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, claimed more than 1,700 lives and flattened countless buildings in the Philippines. Pictured here is Tacloban, Philippines, before the storm in February 2012. Click through the gallery to see the same area today. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, claimed more than 1,700 lives and flattened countless buildings in the Philippines. Pictured here is Tacloban, Philippines, before the storm in February 2012. Click through the gallery to see the same area today.
HIDE CAPTION
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 11 million people in the Philippines are affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan
  • Bob Kitchen: We are facing decimated services on a truly terrifying scale
  • He says first we need to save lives, then provide basic water and sanitation services
  • Kitchen: No country can be fully prepared for such a disaster; recovery will take years

Editor's note: Bob Kitchen is director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit at the International Rescue Committee.

(CNN) -- Around the world, aid agencies are dispatching teams to the Philippines with one initial overriding objective: Gain access to the areas hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan and understand what has happened.

The Philippines government estimates that as many as 11.3 million people have been affected, and we know that at least 28 million people were within the storm's path. A minimum of 670,000 people are displaced and 41,000 houses are damaged, with about half destroyed. And total casualty numbers continue to vary wildly, depending on different sources.

Philippine official: Nothing fast enough

Getting a handle on a crisis on this scale is hard, but it's made even harder when you're working in an archipelago in a country that is relatively poor with weak infrastructure. That's the challenge in the Philippines, where we are facing decimated services on a truly terrifying scale. The images you have seen are only from areas we have accessed. Worse may be around the corner.

Opinion: For Filipinos, despair and prayers

Organizations such as the International Rescue Committee have learned a great deal from responding to past catastrophes, from the earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan in 2010 to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

PHILIPPINES AID (IN U.S. $)

Australia: 30 million

U.N.: 25 million

UK: 24 million

U.S.: 20 million

Japan: 10 million

Denmark: 6.9 million

European Union: 4.1 million

Sweden: 3.6 million

UAE: 10 million

South Korea: 5 million

Canada: 4.8 million

Norway: 3.4 million

Switzerland: 3.4 million

Indonesia: 2 million

Spain: 1.8 million

New Zealand: 1.75 million

China: 1.6 million

Ireland: 1.4 million

Italy: 1.3 million

Mexico: 1 million

Austria: 690,000

Belgium: 690,000

Czech Republic: 214,000

Singapore:160,000

Vatican: 150,000

Vietnam: 100,000



Source: U.N. OCHA, government officials, reports

Where state resilience and infrastructure are weak, the immediate concern, beyond first aid for those harmed in the first wave of destruction, is recovering, maintaining and reconstructing basic water and sanitation services. A cholera outbreak is always a threat, and other diseases such as typhoid are often the first killers to emerge.

So the initial work is basic -- clearing debris and understanding what services are working and what aren't. The IRC will typically look to mobilize the local community by offering cash for work to clear roads and kick-start a microeconomy. This puts cash back in pockets so people can start to rebuild their lives, where they can, and rekindle economic activity.

The second priority is to assess and reinforce health care systems. The government of the Philippines has defined the typhoon event as a national calamity, and there will be thousands of casualties desperately in need of first aid.

Many survivors would be ill and reliant on a health service that the typhoon has destroyed. So, securing and providing medication for chronic conditions such as diabetes, which can quickly become life threatening if left without attention, is crucial. We are already hearing reports of closed hospitals without power and fears of electrocution if the power is switched back on.

Reports indicate that aid agencies will be able to access a robust pharmaceuticals market based out of the capital of Manila, but the supply of medical supplies and infrastructure tools will quickly dry up.

No country can be fully prepared for disasters of this scale, so aid agencies will call for and coordinate international flights and shipments of the medicines and resources that are in the shortest supply or that have already run out. This process is expensive and requires serious financial support and logistical assistance. It will require donations from people who can afford to help as well as the offer of military-scale logistical assistance from governments that can help.

When they lose their home and their family, people also often lose hope. Where food has run out, electricity cut off and communications down, then looting, violence and theft become an immediate danger.

The IRC will be assessing the nature and locations of these threats to alert the government and work with partners to offer protection services. We consider the vulnerability of women and girls to be front and center in our emergency response, as we know that in emergencies gender-based violence tragically increases.

It may sound dull, but ensuring we are transparent and accountable to the communities we are serving is critical. If the people tell us we aren't serving their needs, we need to listen and adapt our approach. So we immediately set up systems to ensure that the people we are trying to help are part of shaping our response.

Like many disasters, the event itself lasted only a few hours, but the response will take many years to achieve what it must. So this is a long-term project.

Right now, we need to first save lives. At the IRC, we have launched an immediate appeal for $10 million. You can donate here. We will then begin the greater task of helping the Philippines rebuild their lives and to be better prepared for next time.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Kitchen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT