The Philippines is well-used to being battered by the weather, since the country experiences around 20 cyclones each year. But Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest storms on record to hit land and its ferocity left a trail of misery. There is no final figure for casualties, but the United Nations puts the number of dead at 4,460, though this is likely to rise higher as more bodies are recovered.
Due to wide-scale damage to roads and infrastructure, distributing food, water and emergency items has been an agonisingly slow process. One week on and supplies are beginning to reach survivors, though distributing aid in Tacloban and surrounding areas is proving a complex task, especially since many of the city’s police force and state workers are missing or dealing with great personal loss.
Aid agencies are working hard to set up aid distribution points and US helicopters have now arrived to transport supplies by air. But speaking to the BBC, the Interior Secretary of the Philippines admitted “the need is massive...and you can’t reach everyone”.
The danger of long-term illness and hunger
Though teams are now working to remove and bury bodies, aid agencies are increasingly concerned about the threat of disease. With a lack of clean water, survivors of the typhoon, particularly children, will be vulnerable to waterborne illnesses such as acute watery diarrhoea.
When the short-term emergency needs for clean water, food, medicines and temporary shelters have been addressed, the affected regions will face a long hard road to recovery. In other storm-hit areas of the Philippines, such as the provinces of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley on the southern island of Mindanao which were hit by Typhoon Bopha over a year ago, experience has shown that long after the disaster, families are struggling to rebuild livelihoods and as a consequence many children are acutely malnourished.
In typhoon-affected regions children are also more prone to severe illness, as well as experiencing huge gaps in their education. Dealing with such issues will require a long-term commitment from the government of the Philippines and aid agencies, as they help communities to rebuild.