Friday, 15 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan diary: Aid is getting through

By Christopher de Bono (Regional Chief of Communication, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific)

A child displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in an evacuation centre in Tacloban
© UNICEF Philippines/2013/JMaitem

It’s day four since Typhoon Haiyan hit, and the good news is aid is getting through. And I’m proud to say that UNICEF’s water and sanitation supplies – the aid category that we are leading on – are now in Tacloban, where they will help us avoid the much-feared outbreaks of typhus and cholera. Other agencies are leading on food, shelter and medicine.

The bad news is that not enough is getting through. Despite the amazing, tireless efforts of the Philippines Government and army, and all my colleagues in the aid community, we are still not reaching everyone in dire need.

Logistics were key in the first days. The typhoon blocked or destroyed roads, airports and bridges, and authorities were working feverishly to open the routes we needed to get supplies in. The level of devastation, the weather and the geography of the central Philippines meant this was a tough task. Slowly they have succeeded.

But by the time the routes were open to get water, food, shelter and medicines in, the people who’s lives had been devastated were hungry and desperate. Unaware of what was being done to reach them (no surprise given that Haiyan demolished communications networks as well), they were feeling deserted and hopeless.

So as soon as roads were open, everyone who could gathered their children and took the roads out of the city, or headed for the airport in search of a flight. Who can blame them? But the routes that were painstakingly cleared of obstacles to allow desperately needed aid to get in, were suddenly blocked again with desperate, hungry and tired people trying to get out.

Children carry their possessions in the city of Tacloban
© UNICEF Philippines/2013/JMaitem

For all that, aid is getting in – in trickles for now but trickles can become floods. And we are slowly improving our understanding of what is needed and increasing our capacity to provide it. UNICEF teams are spreading throughout the area, assessing children’s needs and starting to meet them.

Colleagues are in all the affected areas of the Philippines working hard. It’s easy to understand why people who have lost everything else are now losing hope but – from the security of where I am at present – I am starting to see a little glimmer of light.

Just a glimmer for now. Until every child is safe, that is not enough.  We are working around the clock with that simple and single purpose.

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