Skip to main content

Why typhoon response taking so long

By Bob Kitchen
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 1108 GMT (1908 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT