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The challenges of delivering aid in the Philippines

Providing shelter at our Children's Village in Calbayog
Providing shelter at our Children's Village in Calbayog

The devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan is fast becoming one of the worst humanitarian disasters to hit South Asia since the tsunami of 2004. Across the Philippines, nearly 700,000 people have been forced from their homes - while more than 80,000 households have no home to return to. In Tacloban, one of the worst-hit areas, people are trapped in a city which is rapidly running out of supplies. A week into our relief effort, we look at the challenges of delivering aid, and how we are helping amid the chaos.

Many charities are working to provide emergency relief in the aftermath of the typhoon. But with a transport network in ruins, reaching people in this isolated city is not easy.

The destruction of roads means access in and out of the city is near-impossible by land, while all commercial flights from Tacloban airport have been cancelled. Bringing aid in by air is challenging, too, because the airport's short runway is not suitable for many aircraft. And in the immediate aftermath of the storm, debris on the landing strip meant planes could not land, resulting in an excruciating ten-hour delay while the runway was cleared.

SOS Tacloban water tower down
Destruction wrought at our Children's Village in Tacloban

Here, you can find out what we are doing to help families in our care in the aftermath of one of the worst storms in recorded history. To support our vital relief work, please give to our emergency appeal.

What are we doing to keep SOS families safe?

When the typhoon struck, 101 children and young people were seeking shelter in the attics of family houses in our Children’s Village in Tacloban. Though no one in the Village was harmed, the storm has caused widespread destruction, tearing off roofs and leaving homes without shelter. We have moved 73 children, mostly under the age of 14, to our Children’s Village in Calbayog, further north on the island of Samar. At this stage, 19 children and young people as well as 11 SOS mothers remain in our Village in Tacloban.

How did we get the children out of Tacloban?

Once the scale of the crisis in Tacloban became clear, staff from our Village in Calbayog - including the Village Director, Emily Torculas - travelled to Tacloban to provide support. We were then able to arrange for hired buses to collect the children - along with two injured adults - and take them back to Calbayog.

What was the scale of damage to the Children's Village and the surrounding area?

Emily Torculas, Village Director of our Children's Village in Calbayog, describes the destruction she witnessed on arriving in Tacloban as “the most heartbreaking scene I have seen in my 39 years of existence.” As she entered the city, she was faced with utter horror: “Remnants of houses, fallen trees and dead bodies were strewn all over the streets. I prayed that our Children's Village would not be like this.” Though no SOS families or staff were killed in the typhoon, she was met with equal devastation when she reached the Village: “The surroundings were ravaged, with mud all over the place, and I could see many scattered dead bodies.” She was overwhelmed to find the children safe when her journey finally came to an end: “Children came rushing up to the car as if it was Noah's Ark! I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the children's faces.”

Calbayog after Haiyan
Taking care of families at our Children's Village in Calbayog

What about the families we support in the community?

At this stage, we have scant information about the 300 children and 93 caregivers we support in the community due the chaos enveloping the entire city. However, we do know that many people who grew up with us and have now left our Village have lost their homes in the storm, and others are missing. Tragically, three former SOS children were killed in the typhoon. Two SOS staff and their families have been left homeless. Electricity is still unavailable throughout Tacloban, and internet access is available in only one location, the City Hall.

Where is the aid coming from?

At this stage, most of the relief is coming from the Cebu City, located further south on the island of the same name. The biggest challenge is transportation. With Tacloban airport closed to most traffic, ferry and road is the only means of getting the aid to Tacloban. Transporting the aid by sea is much slower than by plane, while progress by land is laboriously slowgoing due to the state of the roads. Due to these appalling conditions, it took us a day and a half to get the first batch of aid to Tacloban - and we estimate that it will only last for 3-5 days.

Mother carrying girl
A mother carrying her daughter through the streets of Tacloban (photo: Getty)

What problems are we faced with?

In Cebu, we are trying to buy as much stock as possible, as we expect significant price rises in the weeks ahead. Sellers are stockpiling goods, and with supply patchy, demand is increasing by the day. Pressure on supplies will escalate further as international charities travel to Cebu, where they can better deliver support to the worst-affected.

Where is our aid going?

Currently, the need is in our Children’s Villages in Tacloban and Calbayog. We are working to ensure our Village in Calbayog is well-stocked with the essential supplies needed to support the children who have moved there from Tacloban. The local authorities in Calbayog face a shortage of food supplies. We are also:

  • Clearing debris from the SOS Children’s Village Tacloban, with the help of young people from the Village, SOS mothers, and the neighbouring community.
  • Creating child-friendly spaces within the Village, so that families in the community can leave their children there while they do whatever is required to rebuild their lives.
  • Searching for young people who used to live at the Children’s Village, but whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
  • Re-establishing contact with parents and children who we support in the wider Tacloban commuity.

Is SOS Children working with other charities?

We are currently working on establishing partnerships with other charities so that together we can reach as many people as possible. Since our Children’s Village in Tacloban is located close to the city centre, we are particularly well-placed to act as a distribution point for charities who have supplies but need an effective way of distributing them. We are doing all we can to establish the best way to help families into the future.

Please help us continue this essential work. Give to our emergency appeal...