Unprepared: Government Failings Intensify Haiyan Aid Disaster, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Katrin Kuntz, Jonathan Stock and Bernhard Zand, (Photo Gallery).

Typhoon Haiyan has left entire regions all but inaccessible in the Philippines, while the ensuing chaos has hampered the efforts of relief workers. A country hit by about 10 typhoons a year ought to be better prepared … //

… Aid Catastrophe Follows Typhoon: … //

… Government Unprepared for Disaster:  

  • The Philippines consists of more than 7,100 islands, and according to the official, most parts of the country are easily accessible by ship. To be more prepared fordisasters like Haiyan, Manila could station a handful of freighters around the country and keep them on call, with water filtration systems, emergency food supplies, medicine and tents on board. After a disaster, these ships could reach the affected areas more quickly than international aid workers, who must be flown in.
  • The government also bears some of the responsibility for the deaths of many Filipinos. It could prepare the country more effectively for typhoons. Many cities are too close to the water, where storm surges are quick to wash away flimsy huts. And meteorologists can predict the arrival of typhoons with a fair degree of accuracy, sometimes hours or even days in advance. In other words, people could get out of harm’s way, the government official says angrily. But many don’t.
  • The Philippines is one of the poorest countries in the world. Some residents own nothing but a “TV set and a kettle,” which they want to protect from looters, says the official from Manila. For that reason, they often stay in their huts — and die there. The police and military should maintain a stronger presence in provincial areas, to establish order and stop looters, says the man from Manila. If these steps are not taken, the next typhoon could cause as much damage as Haiyan did in Tanauan, a city on the island of Leyte.
  • At 10:30 a.m. last Thursday, 26 more names were added to the list of fatalities in the city. On this day, civil defense officer Chat Ortega, 53, maintains two lists, one for those reported dead and one for the missing. Six days after the storm, there are more than 1,000 names on her first list. The list of the missing is longer, so long, in fact, that Ortega doesn’t have the time to add up the numbers on all the pages. There are people waiting in line in front of the city hall. Some want to know where to bury their dead, while others are waiting for news on the missing.
  • After that, they intend to leave the city.

No Provisions a Week Later:

  • Thousands are already embarking on an exodus out of Tanauan, making their way north on foot, by bicycle, or whatever means possible. Their goal is to get out, and to somehow travel the roughly 20 kilometers (13 miles) up the east coast of Leyte to the airport in Tacloban, where large military aircraft are taking off and landing. The refugees hope that by reaching Tacloban, they will be able to get something to eat and drink, and perhaps a seat on a flight out of this nightmare.
  • The road from Tanauan to Tacloban begins at the Embarcadero Bridge. Mountains of debris — palm trees, roof trusses, a minibus, a coffee table — have piled up against the bridge. Bodies float in the water, stuck in the debris, and the stench is unbearable.
  • “There are a few dozen bodies under this bridge,” says dentist Quintin Octa, who is helping local official Ortega manage her lists of the dead and missing. “We have no means to recover them.” Men pump water out of a well a little farther down the canal. “Drinking water is our biggest problem,” says Octa.
  • Tanauan, a city of about 50,000 before the storm, was destroyed. Located directly on the Pacific coast, it was defenseless against the storm surge. There are no longer any habitable dwellings between the waterfront and the city hall.
  • Almost a week has passed since the typhoon, and still no fresh water, not a single food shipment and no gasoline have arrived in Tanauan. She doesn’t want to complain about her government, says Ortega, since she herself is part of it, but — “no,” she says, interrupting herself and angrily turning her face away.

Confusion Prevails: … //

… (full text inclusive hyper-links).

Part 2: Please Help Us.


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