Philippines: Helping communities recover

27 Nov 2013

20 Nov 2013, Philippines: DART Commanding Officer and Commander Joint Task Forces for the Philippines LCol Walter Taylor greets Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos at Capiz city airport. Credit: DART
International military helps the Government and aid organizations clear the way to reach people in typhoon-hit areas.

As the full extent of the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan became apparent, coordination between humanitarian agencies and the military, both from the Philippines and elsewhere, played a crucial role in the aid effort.

It quickly became clear that logistical problems were causing major bottlenecks in aid delivery. Heavy lifting equipment was required to move the debris from roads; telecommunications towers across the region were down and needed to be restored so people could reach out to their loved ones. Communities across the Visayas, where the typhoon struck, were desperately in need of immediate life-saving aid. Their frustration was matched only by that of the humanitarian aid workers who were doing their best to deliver but continued to face immense logistical challenges. For instance in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon when the road from the airport to Tacloban city was cleared, it took six hours for a round trip of 11 kilometres, making timely delivery impossible.

Facing the logical challenges

Just days after the typhoon hit, several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brunei, India, Thailand, Qatar, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Indonesia and China, responded to the Philippines Government’s request for military assistance.

The challenge: delivering aid to some 13 million people who had been affected – a number similar to the size and population of Portugal. Roads and highways were covered in debris, resembling garbage tips rather than access routes. There were no telephone connections, electricity was out, weather conditions were poor, airports closed down and fuel sources were contaminated.

The foreign militaries supported logistic operations with almost 30 airplanes capable of moving relief supplies throughout the islands, and helicopters and boats that could deliver assistance to some of the hardest-to-reach areas along the coast, in mountainous regions and on smaller islands.

Medical teams brought emergency treatment to those who were injured, and engineering equipment like earth movers and trucks were used to help remove debris, clear access routes and help to restore normality to the most affected communities.

Working with local authorities

The Governor of Capiz province, Victor Tanco, had tracked the typhoon as it headed towards land and began daily radio broadcasts to warn people to move to evacuation centres to ensure their safety. 

While Capiz did not experience the wave that caused so much loss of life in Tacloban, the province nonetheless took a severe hit. The power of the storm caused serious damage to the infrastructure and electricity lines were down, leaving the province largely without power. Nearly all homes were either partially or totally damaged. 

“The Governor’s personal leadership in pre-emptive evacuations was a major contributor to saving lives in the province,” said Lieutenant Colonel Walter Taylor, who led the Canadian military Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) that brought help to Capiz province. “The Canadian DART was very happy to be able to assist with our engineers, equipment and helicopters, especially considering the extensive damage to infrastructure.”

The Canadian team set up bases across the island and helped clear the debris on the roads so the electricity poles could be erected again.  They were also able to provide clean water to people, minimising the risk of illness with contaminated water.  The DART is aiming to restore the piped water system before they return home.

“The Canadians have provided exceptional support to the humanitarian effort,” said Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos who visited Roxas, in Capiz, a week after the disaster, to see relief operations first-hand. 

“This is the most effective civil-military coordination we have ever seen at the field level and should be used as a model for future disaster response operations,” she added praising Member States for responding so quickly and efficiently to the Philippines Government’s call for assistance.

”We put great emphasis on disaster preparedness ultimately we saved lives, however the damage to infrastructure and people’s homes has been devastating” said Governor Tanco. “It will take some time before we can rebuild our community, but the efforts of the Canadians have certainly assisted us on the road to recovery.”

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