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 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT