Philippines Disaster Response
Haiyan has proven to be one of the most destructive and deadly natural disaster to hit the Philippines. The estimated death toll is close to 12,000. The total economic damages is estimated at $14 billion. Super Typhoon Haiyan is closing in on the northern Vietnam and China boarder as a category 1 storm with winds of 85 mph. The situation is still chaotic but Portlight has already begun communicating with disability stakeholder organizations to identify needs.
I come from the Philippines, was former president of the national umbrella organization of persons with disabilities in the country, headed a national rehabilitation project for children with disabilities which provided services to some 14,000 children in 120 cities and municipalities in the country from 1995 to 2008 before I moved to the United States to assume my current job.
Typhoon Yolanda, internationally named typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Visayan Islands in the Philippines last Friday had unprecedented strength which even Filipinos who are visited by an average of 20 typhoons a year, have never experienced and were never prepared for this kind of event, in spite of warnings from weather forecasters. As the devastation would show, no amount of preparation could have possibly spared people from the fury of this hurricane.
I had regularly monitored the events in the Philippines related to this storm as I still have family and friends based there. My main source of information are reports aired through the Filipino Channel, text, email and Facebook exchanges with family and friends based in Manila. As of 10 November 2013, reports indicated that over 12,000 people are dead in Tacloban City alone, although people in the Philippines know that this number is just the tip of the iceberg as many of the affected communities remain isolated due to road and bridges either damaged by landslides or blocked by fallen trees and debris. I monitored from reports early today, November 11th, that a few courageous people from the local media have managed to reach some of the affected communities by hiking 9 hours to reach places which were usually reachable by 30 minute drive from the Taclobal City. The description of the extent of devastation is heart-rending: hundreds of copses in early stage of decomposition are scattered even on the roads and elsewhere. Grieving families have no choice but bury hundreds of them in mass graves to prevent an outbreak of diseases harmful to those who survived the storm. Hundreds if not thousands of people were hurt and wounded, many may die if their wounds remain untreated for days. People are hungry and sick. No food, no water, nothing. In Tacloban City, hungry people have started to break into business establishments to forage on anything they can get: food, water, kerosene, and clothing – anything that can help with their desperate situation.
Reports say supply is adequate. There are tons of food, water, clothing, medicines in Manila and Cebu Cities and help keep coming. However, the problem is how to bring these to those in need – roads are not passable. Helipads are destroyed so are ports for ferryboats. We are an archipelago of 7,100 islands which adds to the difficulty of reaching people in island communities totally cut off as a result of the storm. Communications system is down and there is no electricity. One woman was quoted as saying:”this is worst than hell. I want to be out of here immediately if I can – I lost my family, I have no house, nothing”.
It is also important to understand that typhpoon Yolanda/Haiyan made 6 landfalls in different provinces in the Central Visayan islands of the country so that while Tacloban City in Leyte province has been the center of attention, a number of provinces have similarly been hard hit: the provinces of Samar, Ormoc, Capiz, Alkan, Iloilo, Antique, Negros Occidental, Coron (in Palawan), Bantayan (island in Cebu), Bohol, Mindoro (in Luzon) and other smaller island communities. Many of these areas suffered casualties as well but have not been given as much attention as that given to Tacloban City. All of them suffered from the fury of Typhoon Yolanda. The only difference was that Taclobal City was hit by flood waters caused by a surge as high as 20 feet which enundated the communities and drowned people instantly.
In all the frenzy, there is no mention about the fate of persons with disabilities who are undoubtedly the most vulnerable of the affected populations. My contacts in the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) attached to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, lead agency in the ongoing rescue and relief operations, cannot provide any disability-specific information. I am not at all surprised. The Philippines has a long way to go in the effort to really include persons with disabilities in disaster preparedness, response and similar activities. I tried to reach out by sending text messages to my colleagues with disabilities in the affected areas. No response. I hope it is just that they can’t reply because of communications infrastructure is down. My worst fear is to no longer be able to hear from some or many of them.
One of the officials of Tacloban City interviewed by media yesterday said it all: “The devastation is so massive that we cannot even figure out where to start picking up the shattered pieces of our lives.” It’s that bad.
For all media inquiries, please contact Karen Kessler or Brandon Hatler at (800) 549-3199.