Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan diary: "There is nowhere to go"

Written by Chris de Bono

A mother carries her daughter as they walk in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines
© UNICEF Philippines/2013/JMaitem

I just got off the phone with Leon Dominador Fajardo, or 'Nonoy' for short, a UNICEF Emergency Specialist in Tacloban City. He is a thorough professional – an old hand who has seen disasters and devastation before, but there was a quiver in his voice. “People, families with children are walking along the ruined roads,” he said. “I don’t know where they are going – there is nowhere to go. They are walking because their homes are gone and they have nowhere to go.”

It had taken him a hour to get out of the airport because of the debris. Some other colleagues had been stuck in the airport overnight. The roads are almost impassible in the pitch black night and the risk of accidents is very real – to drivers and passengers but more importantly to people camping on the street.

“So many people have nothing. Their children are hungry, some are sick, and they are frustrated,” he explained. And who wouldn’t be. I can only imagine what it feels like to be utterly unable to comfort or even feed my daughter. We’ve been through some tough times, but I have always been able to give her food and shelter, and help her when she’s ill.  At the moment these people can’t and there’s nowhere for them to turn for help.

There have been reports of looting in local media, but Nonoy described people desperate for food for their hungry families “salvaging” rice from a damaged and deserted warehouse. “The local authorities are doing what they can, and there are long lines of people outside the city hall,” he observed.

Residents inside an evacuation camp in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines
© UNICEF Philippines/2013/JMaitem

Reinforcements from the Philippines army are now helping local police restore order in Tacloban. But what people need is just not there, and many of the authorities – the local civil servants -  have also lost loved ones and homes.

What children in Tacloban City need right now is food, shelter, clean water and basic medicines. There is hope for them. The airport is now functioning and C130 aircraft are bringing in urgent aid supplies. Local authorities are reestablishing the order necessary to distribute aid and meet people’s needs - slowly and with great difficulty, but with support from UNICEF and our partners.

Logistics are a huge challenge: getting enough aid and expertise to the right places; finding the petrol to move it; and setting in place systems for distribution, reestablishing communications.

And there are many parts of the country that were in the path of Typhoon Haiyan that are still inaccessible, so there is a lot we still don’t know and many children – probably millions – who desperately need our help and are not yet receiving it.

Two other population centres of particular concern are northern Palawan and Ormac in Leyte, where we are yet to know what suffering has occurred and how many children need our help. Tomorrow we will know from our colleagues who have just arrived in Ormac. Fingers crossed.

Children walking in the city of Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines
© UNICEF Philippines/2013/JMaitem

The author
Christopher de Bono is Regional Chief of Communication, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific