The sheer destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally in the Philippines as Yolanda) is mind-boggling. Thousands have been killed, countless homes have been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos left homeless. Americans, and indeed people all over the world, have been shocked by arresting images of a destroyed landscape and desperate people whose lives have been ruptured. While nothing can undo the damage wrought by the storm, the U.S. Government has mounted a swift, large, and coordinated relief effort using all of the tools at our disposal, with USAID leading that humanitarian response.
While this is the fifth time since 2009 that USAID has been called to respond to a significant typhoon in the Philippines, this is by far the most devastating. It is also the first major disaster in my short tenure as Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and I have been encouraged to see how the present effort is beginning to make a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary Filipinos. As aid begins to reach tens of thousands of survivors, we are proud of our assistance to the Filipino people even as we are humbled by the breadth of the devastation. A few observations from the past week:
Preparedness and rapid response was critical. USAID/OFDA’s hydro-meteorological expert had sounded the alarm about the storm well in advance, and so we were able to pre-position a disaster response advance team in Manila ahead of the typhoon. That team reached Leyte Island, the epicenter of the crisis, within 24 hours of the typhoon’s passage. That team was on the first commercial vessel to reach the affected area and rapidly began to assess the areas hit by the storm and pinpoint the major priority needs. We found the immediate needs to be emergency shelter, water, and food and we have been working closely with our military colleagues to deliver much-needed assistance.
The damage is heartwrenching. Roughly 90 percent of structures are visibly damaged, including office buildings, hospitals, and homes. We saw severe damage to infrastructure systems, making access to water systems, communications systems, and transportation systems difficult. Weaker structures were totally destroyed but even hardened concrete structure suffered major damage in the ferocious storm surge.
Much more help will be needed. Immediately after Haiyan hit, the United States offered $20 million in humanitarian assistance, which allowed us to distribute emergency shelter kits and family hygiene kits to the region. This is enabling us to reach 20,000 families with plastic sheeting for their homes, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper, and sanitary supplies. Additionally, with the help of World Food Program, USAID has sent 55 metric tons of food, including highly nutritious bars and paste–containing a day’s worth of calories–to nourish approximately 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for roughly four to five days.
This is a first step, and we will do more in the coming weeks to help families meet their basic needs, regroup, and begin to recover. It has been incredible to witness the unity of communities to offer help where they can. We are already beginning to see a major uptick in the volume of international aid to the Philippines as the global aid response reaches full capacity. As more and more aid from the U.S. and many others – from countries to charities to individual donors – begins to reach the Philippines, we are optimistic that the response effort is turning a corner.
Get the latest news and updates on Typhoon Haiyan.