Picking up the Pieces

Typhoon Haiyan On November 8, 2013 the whole world watched as the most powerful storm in recorded history smashed into the Philippines.  Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck the central region of Philippines with sustained winds of 195 mph and wind gusts of up to 235 mph.  Since its landfall, Haiyan is believed to have affected around 12 to 16 million people – with millions displaced, more than 6,000 dead, and nearly 1,800 still missing.

Countries and organizations around the world quickly scrambled to deliver aid to the devastated area.  The relief effort has come in various forms; military aid, hospital ships, and millions of dollars from both organizations and countries.  While countries have been quick to respond to the catastrophe, the Philippines is not in the clear yet.  Three months later bodies are still being found, people are still missing, and aid is difficult to deliver to the islands that are only reachable via boat or helicopter.

Lack of electricity remains a huge problem in the Philippines.  Not only did the storm knock down power lines, but looters looking to make money have broken into transformers to take out the copper cores and sell them on the black market.  Additionally, looters have also cut open the downed power lines and have taken the copper inside.  With many people still missing, the lack of electricity poses a serious communication issue.  People are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones who live in different parts of the country, or even around the world, to let them know that they’re alive.

Corruption continues to be a constant fear in the rebuilding efforts.  There have been reports of local officials selling aid supplies for profit.  This type of post-disaster corruption is not new to the Philippines; $20 million in government funds meant for rebuilding towns in northern Luzon Island after a 2009 storm were allegedly stolen by local officials using fake non-government agencies.  Haiyan has revealed to the world the extent of Filipino corruption; money to maintain and build roads were diverted, hospitals have not received resources they needed, and many buildings have not been built to code – which is evident by the fact that cities like Tacloban, the city hit hardest, are flattened.

US Marines were among the many that aided in the relief efforts.
US Marines were among the many that aided in the relief efforts.

Filipino political officials are well aware that the Philippines is known for corruption, and many citizens have been demanding improvement for years.  President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, has made it his mission to eliminate corruption, and has begun to deliver by establishing a new website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub.  FAiTH, as the website is called, is open to the public and allows people to track funds given to the Philippines by foreign donors.  On the website people can see how much a foreign country has donated and what kind of assistance was provided.  This website has helped the Philippine government and President Aquino gain some credibility in the battle against corruption, but many Filipinos remain skeptical.

In addition to foreign assistance, Filipinos are helping each other out.  Organizations like the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) aim to help out communities ravaged by the typhoon.  PDRF has been able to deliver relief supplies such as food, water, clothes, satellite phones, mobile ATMs, solar-powered lamps, and tents to Haiyan survivors.  PBSP has been able to rally Philippine businesses to donate hygiene kits, blankets, clothes, food, and other forms of relief aid to those affected by the storm.

Even after the typhoon, Filipino resilience is strong.  Shops and markets in areas destroyed by Haiyan have begun to reopen.  Aid organizations, knowing that they need to make money, pay displaced Filipinos to clear debris and make repairs on buildings.  Tacloban even celebrated Christmas by illuminating a church and erecting a Christmas tree in front of city hall.  While it is apparent that Filipinos want to return to normalcy, it is clear that relief efforts will continue in the Philippines for the foreseeable future.  For now, many Filipinos are just happy to be alive.

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