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MANILA — One month since Typhoon Haiyan raked its ferocity across the Philippines, global relief organization Oxfam today reports reaching 250,000 people with life-saving aid in the weeks following the storm’s impact. Philippines authorities, said Oxfam, have stepped up to actively lead and coordinate a huge, complex aid effort that has helped to save lives and prevent a public health emergency despite the destruction of hospitals, clinics, and water supplies. But urgent and long-term needs remain a priority.
Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded, took out bridges, clogged roads, and paralyzed seaports and airports, leaving more than 5,000 Filipinos dead, more than 4 million homeless, and millions without the means to support their families. Despite widespread destruction and massive logistical obstacles in the wake of the typhoon, fast action backed by generous international support and the solidarity of local people has helped millions of people survive and prevented major outbreaks of disease, Oxfam said.
Oxfam's Country Director in the Philippines Justin Morgan said: “It’s been immensely challenging to get aid through, but the response, both from the people of the Philippines and the international community, has been amazing. Our main concern now is supporting rural communities that have not received adequate assistance, and making sure people are able to quickly rebuild their homes, infrastructure and livelihoods in a way that will make them more resilient to future shocks.”
After the initial chaos caused by Haiyan’s impact, the United Nations, local, national and international organizations came together with the government of the Philippines to improve coordination and expand the aid effort. In Leyte, Oxfam was able to help 155,000 people, in North Cebu and Bantayan Island Oxfam helped 80,000; and on Samar, Oxfam has helped 11,200 people. Working together with the local authority in Tacloban, UNICEF and a local organisation called A Single Drop for Safe Water, Oxfam helped restore the city’s water supply to 80 percent of its inhabitants within a week of the typhoon hitting.
An assessment published today by Oxfam warns that major gaps remain in the continuing response, with millions of people—especially in rural and hard to reach areas—having received little official aid. Many have relied on local charities, churches and their fellow citizens at home and abroad. The relief effort must expand faster to provide enough assistance to everyone who needs it, said Oxfam.
In addition, substantial longer term support will be needed to prevent affected areas, many of which were already among the poorest parts of the Philippines, sliding further into poverty, and exposing communities to greater risks from the next weather event in a disaster prone country.
Today, roughly 3 million people are relying on some form of food assistance and 4 million people are homeless and need shelter. An Oxfam assessment in northwest Leyte found some communities had nothing to eat except the food aid they received and less than 10 percent had proper emergency shelter. There are also risks to the safety of vulnerable groups such as woman and children.
Between 1987-2007, major natural disasters became four times as common worldwide. Climate change is a key reason, said Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser. In a recent opinion article published by MSNBC.com Offenheiser points out that since 1993, more than 530,000 people have died as a direct result of 15,000 extreme weather events. Losses amounted to more than $2.5 trillion.
“During the coming decade, catastrophes like typhoon Haiyan will cause billions of dollars in damage in poor countries, kill many thousands of people, and require at least $1 trillion in public humanitarian aid. The need for international agreements to cut the carbon emissions that fuel global warming is far beyond urgent,” said Offenheiser.
Voltaire Alferez, National Coordinator of one of Oxfam’s partners in the Philippines, Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, said: “Typhoon Haiyan is the shape of things to come. With climate change increasing the severity of typhoons in the region and sea levels projected to rise, the effects of deadly storm surge are compounded. The Philippines will need sustained support and programs to prepare for more storms like this. Ultimately, it needs action on reducing the threat of climate change.”
The Philippines is hit by approximately 20 typhoons a year and has been relatively successful at preparing for and reducing the risk of disasters. The central government evacuated 800,000 people in the wake of the storm, which undoubtedly saved many lives. However, it needs to redouble its efforts to make sure those authorities and organizations at the frontline of disaster response are best equipped to safeguard their people and livelihoods.