Helping after the Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan

| April 4, 2015 | 0 Comments
Save the Children was one of the first organizations on the ground after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

Save the Children was one of the first organizations on the ground after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan — the strongest storm ever to hit landfall — ripped through central Philippines in November 2013, killing more than 6,000 people and destroying more than one million homes. More than 14 million people were affected in some way. Typhoon Haiyan left complete devastation in its wake by sweeping away houses, uprooting coconut trees, destroying boats and taking away people’s livelihoods in a few hours.
Save the Children was one of the first humanitarian organizations on the ground after Haiyan struck. A little more than a year later, we remain the largest aid agency in some of the hardest-hit areas.
I landed in Tacloban City shortly after the disaster. The devastation was unfathomable. After more than 25 years with Save the Children, I’ve responded to many emergencies and can quickly ascertain how a natural disaster will impact the future of its region’s children. In the early days in Tacloban, however, I saw something in the men, women and children that would amend my first impressions. I saw the full power of resilience and determination that put them on the road to  recovery.
Those I met moved me with their stories of disaster and determination to rebuild. One woman had given birth during the storm and demonstrated the ferocious strength only a mother can show to keep her newborn safe. An initial assessment of the damage on one community centre left a group concerned for its future. Staff from Save the Children said we would return the next day with the tools and equipment to start rebuilding. The following day, when we returned, members of the community had cleared mountains of debris and were ready to start reconstruction and get their children back into school. I was moved.
But, resilience and determination multiply with support. I’m proud to say that the international community has joined in to provide what it can. It has been one year since Typhoon Haiyan hit, and Save the Children has reached nearly 800,000 children and adults with life-saving aid, recovery and rehabilitation support. We have distributed food and water; provided medicine and health services through our mobile health clinics; repaired classrooms, health facilities and water systems; and provided shelter, household and hygiene items to keep children safe.
Although children, families and communities are getting back on their feet, the needs on the ground are still immense. In some of the hardest-hit areas, thousands of families continue to live in temporary shelters and are struggling to recover their livelihoods. During a September visit, children from the affected region told us the greatest barrier to their recovery is the fact that their parents can’t find work.
Save the Children is committed to helping the most vulnerable, who are often the poorest. We are now working with communities to diversify the ways in which they make money and providing cash grants and skill development training to help recover livelihoods, fuel the local economy and help families start their own businesses.
We’ve seen significant improvement, but this will not be enough. For the Philippines, future disasters are not only inevitable, thanks to its geography, they are expected to intensify because of climate change. Save the Children is therefore also helping communities prepare, to cope with and adapt for future disasters. This requires planning and policy change at the highest levels.
These are not just words. Let me explain how it works. With the goal of policy change in mind, Save the Children is working alongside key global partners on programming for sustaining livelihoods, maintaining shelter and reducing disaster risk. In addition, we’ve been advocating for the Filipino government to pass a law, known as HB5062, to protect children in future emergencies. The need for such a law was identified after our research in the Haiyan-affected areas. We interviewed 124 children and presented a report to members of Congress. Today, the bill has been filed and tomorrow, we plan for change.
However, again, like resilience and determination, change needs support. What we’ve achieved is in large part due to the support we’ve received — more than $80 million donated by generous Canadians to our Typhoon Haiyan response. A generation of children thanks you, but they need continuing support. Through resilience and determination, we can make a lasting change for the children impacted by the typhoon’s destruction.

Patricia Erb is president and CEO of Save the Children Canada.

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Patricia Erb is president and CEO of Save the Children Canada.

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