The calm after the storm: restoration in the Philippines

Photo credit Victoria Sauveplane

After Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, Action Against Hunger staff and other humanitarian colleagues took action immediately to help affected people make it through one of the worst natural disasters in the past 50 years.

The first phase of emergency response included the essentials: planes, trucks and in some cases helicopters were used to deliver therapeutic foods and other essentials like hygiene kits.  Clean water was brought in and water bladder systems established; latrines were set up as interim sanitation solutions; programs like ‘baby tents’ enabled mothers to breastfeed in a safe, comforting environment. But those immediate efforts are only just the beginning of recovery.

What happens next?

As the months go by, Action Against Hunger programs move into the second phase of emergency response – the rehabilitation phase.

In this phase, our programs support longer-term recovery while reducing the population’s dependency on emergency relief efforts. Programs include:

–          re-building water and sanitation systems

–          restoring farmlands so that they bloom with fruits and vegetables

–          teaching farmers how to grow crops in a changed environment

–          providing farmers with seeds and equipment

–          reviving livestock populations to restart the food pyramid

–          psycho-social support for trauma

Sanitation is an essential part of preventing malnutrition and ensuring the overall health of communities. Water and sewage systems were destroyed as the typhoon ravaged the country. Clean water no longer flows from taps, and waste starts to accumulate in damaged latrines. Both are ideal conditions for disastrous water-borne outbreaks like cholera or typhoid. An outbreak at this stage, with 14 million citizens still requiring emergency assistance, could easily tip the balance in this already precarious situation.

Why is international support needed at this phase?

A common misconception is that responsibility for the rebuilding phase should fall on the shoulders of the local government. However, in times of emergencies, governments are severely handicapped in terms of functioning: finances are stretched thin, and the infrastructure has collapsed so internal resources aren’t enough to reach everyone – particularly those in remote regions. Meanwhile, for the general population, property and means of making a living have been wiped out. Financial systems, businesses, food producers and markets, are all scrambling to put themselves together again.

Community participation is, of course, key. That is one reason why this second phase of emergency response is so important: to help the country recover from the devastation and re-gain its self-sufficiency. In particular, the Philippines is extremely prone to typhoons – it’s hit with approximately 20 typhoons or tropical storms each year. Together we must help the country gain resiliency against future natural disasters.

Meanwhile, we must ensure that all those affected are able to recover not only the essentials for survival, but also the dignity and satisfaction of running successful businesses, contributing to the economy, raising healthy families, and being part of a lively and resilient community.


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