Aid groups have their first big chance to prove what they learned in disaster preparedness, risk mitigation and emergency relief one year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines as the country is once again ravaged by a similar storm.
This scenario, somewhat more positive so far than expected, is in part due to preparation efforts, partnerships formed and the lessons learned during the relief and recovery phase of Haiyan, an official from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told Devex.While early signs of the country’s preparations against Typhoon Hagupit have been encouraging with zero casualties in Tacloban — Haiyan’s “ground zero” — and parts of Leyte province compared to last year, at least 21 people have died so far according to the Philippine Red Cross and over 1 million have been affected, according to the latest report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
“The Haiyan experience has been invaluable for Typhoon Hagupit for both the government and its humanitarian partners and the people themselves,” said Kasper Engborg, OCHA’s head in Tacloban. “Lessons learned and evaluations have all brought in experience to the way the preparedness was managed and handled.”
The U.N. official added that the partnerships that have been forged between the government, the aid community and the private sector throughout the year have been crucial in coordination and collaboration. Engborg, however, pointed out that the initial reports should not be used as a case for stakeholders to be complacent as the real work is far from over with a lot of people still locked in a vicious cycle of recovery and picking up the pieces after Haiyan.
Many affected people, particularly those in the areas traversed by Haiyan which incidentally is in the same path as that of Hagupit, cannot afford another lashing wound when they are still nursing a relatively fresh one.
Cecil Laguardia, World Vision’s communications manager for emergency response in the Philippines, shared that relief organizations and humanitarian groups will have to roll with the punches and be flexible and innovative in how they respond, as the standard operation procedure should be moving two steps ahead and not two steps backward.
“Food, water and ensuring proper sanitation in the evacuation camps were identified as major needs at this point. Challenges include helping the rebuilding process as recovery efforts for Haiyan getting hampered and stalled,” she told Devex, adding that apart from deploying nongovernmental organization staff in the affected areas and incorporating members of local communities in their teams enhances both the former’s understanding of disaster response as well as their level of empowerment.
Although it may be misleading to compare Hagupit to Haiyan in terms of strength, the enduring effect brought about by the latter undoubtedly helped prepare for the consequences of the former.
Haiyan was one the strongest typhoons ever recorded to make landfall, while Hagupit is a very slow-moving typhoon at about 10 kilometers per hour — prolonging the devastation and amount of rainfall — that has confused several trusted weather agencies around the world when they reported extremely different paths of the storm last week.
“This is a very unpredictable storm. Knowing where to deploy teams has been challenging,” Michael Rooijackers, Save the Children deputy country director for the Philippines, told Devex, adding that this unpredictability has made response and preparation difficult for international organizations involved in the operations.
For Katherine Manik from ChildFund, Hagupit’s very slow traverse through the central Visayas region makes preparing a full assessment extremely challenging.
“As Hagupit is still making its path across the Philippines, and some communities are bracing while others are already reeling from it, the ‘fog’ of Hagupit has not lifted, and while agencies do not yet fully know the extent of damage and need, we worry communities might not have fared as well,” the organization’s Philippine country director told Devex.
Engborg, however, is optimistic that the affected parts of the country will fare better this time and they “don’t foresee major humanitarian implications” as stakeholders have relatively done their part so far.