Government’s Failure, Humanity’s Triumph: A Haiyan Perspective

On November 5th, my brother and several other friends who live in the Philippines posted on Facebook a warning from an international weather agency entitled “Haiyan a Serious Threat to the Philippines.” These active social media practitioners commented that they have been seeing the same warning from several international weather agencies since Sunday, November 3rd, except from the country’s own weather bureau. The forecast has been consistently dire at the outset, and on November 6th the Joint Typhoon Warning Center raised the typhoon’s intensity to a Category 5 that could wreck havoc to the country with unprecedented storm surges. Experts further warned that not a single structure anywhere in central Philippines could withstand the wind gusts.

On November 7th, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III appeared before the nation on a televised speech assuring the country of the government’s preparedness. Armed forces are mission capable, and relief goods have been pre-positioned in many areas expected to be affected by the typhoon. While he warned the public and the local governments of storm surges as high as six meters, he also advised those near the shore to avoid going to the open sea.

On November 8th, Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) made a landfall.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, after the typhoon has left the country in shambles, the world saw how inadequately prepared the government really was. In many towns and provinces there were absolutely no government functioning. This includes hospitals,  law enforcement, and other social services. The mayor of hard hit Tacloban City (a nephew of former First Lady Imelda Marcos whose family is the archenemy of the Aquinos), showed a bad example when he himself refused to evacuate his family from their beachfront house only to tell their survival story to the world.

It is heart wrenching that we missed precious moments (hours and even days) to really prepare for a Category 5 typhoon. Thousands of lives were lost, orphaned children have been aimlessly walking the streets for many days hungry, afraid, and dazed passing corpses on the side of the road and smelling their stenches. It is frustrating that even a week after the tragedy many areas have still not been reached by any relief effort while a 6-kilometer queue of trucks bearing relief goods line up at a pier for days due to insufficient ships to ferry them to the disaster zones.

While the situation seemed hopeless, the global community is quick to react. It has become a proud moment for all of humanity as nations come together and rally their resources to bring aid to the country. The United States alone has sent many ships to include our own USS George Washington and San Diego-based hospital ship USNS Mercy on top of C-130 planes and other aircraft used to haul people from the disaster areas to Manila.

Being a Filipino-American, I am proud. I am proud of my heritage of resilience and proud of my country the Unites States’ hands-on response.

The task is daunting. It is of high urgency to bring relief to those affected by the typhoon, but let us also consider giving for the reconstruction efforts. It is not too early to think of that. Give your money to reputable organizations only, so that they are used on the ground with much diligence. Give to organizations who will spearhead rebuilding of villages – of their schools, hospitals, police stations, roads, and bridges.

When it is safe to do so, go there and volunteer your services and help people become self-sufficient once more. Bring livelihood projects, train them new skills to be productive, and provide your professional services to help augment the country’s needs until all the villages have risen up from the rubble.

Pray. Pray tirelessly. But, pray coupled with tangible actions. Donate. Give. Rally support. And, thank those who have served selflessly.

Then, let’s talk about climate change.

 

James A. Nilo
Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan

PS
This author, who has family members in the affected areas, supports the Typhoon Haiyan Philippine relief efforts through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Please visit umcor.org for more information.

PPS
A new challenge to those who live in Luzon, particularly in Metro Manila, is this: Are you willing to host a family from Visayas, give them shelter and food and help them get back on their feet?

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