One Month After Super Typhoon Haiyan – Update from the Field


Interview with Holly Solberg, Director of Emergencies, CARE USA, who traveled to Leyte and Samar islands from December 2 to 6.

What is the situation like now in the communities you visited on Leyte and Samar islands?

In spite of the massive devastation from the typhoon a month ago, we are seeing an incredible amount of resiliency and activity. The local population is very busy, cleaning up the rubble and repairing their homes with tarps and any other materials they can salvage from the debris.

Aid is flowing into the affected communities. CARE has so far distributed shelter repair kits, tarps, kitchen sets and food to 52,000 of the most vulnerable people.

Shelter remains one of the most pressing needs. People urgently need to rebuild their homes as they are still living outdoors in the elements, including the hot sun and heavy rain that falls almost daily.

CARE has distributed shelter materials (including tarpaulins, nails, hammers, axes, shovels, hoes, handsaws and wire) to more than 14,000 people. In Tacloban, for instance, the thousands of people who were living in the Redemptionist Church evacuation centre have left. CARE distributed shelter kits to these families and now they have returned home.

Is life improving for the millions of people devastated by this disaster?

Life is slowly improving for the population and the shock is beginning to wear off. 

In the initial days after the disaster, people were struggling for basic survival. Now they are getting food, and local and international aid is flowing into communities.

Even though about 90 per cent of the population is still without electricity, markets are opening, ATM machines are functioning, kids are playing basketball in the streets and schools are beginning to reopen.

What is CARE currently doing on the ground?

CARE is providing food and shelter assistance to the most vulnerable households (including female-headed households, elderly and disabled people) and working with the government and other NGOs to ensure that the gaps in assistance are filled.

What is CARE’s focus?

Currently, CARE’s top priorities are food and shelter assistance. We are planning to reach 200,000 people. During the coming weeks, CARE will begin providing sheet metal and roofing nails to help people begin the housing recovery process.

CARE will transition soon to programs that help people to replace lost assets and begin to recover their livelihoods.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 5.6 million people’s livelihoods and income sources were destroyed, lost or disrupted because of the typhoon.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Typhoon Haiyan also destroyed one third of the Philippines’ rice growing areas. The coconut industry was devastated by the typhoon and it takes 10 years for newly planted coconut trees to produce fruit. People employed by the coconut industry will need to find alternative employment.

What are CARE’s long-term plans?

It will take years to bring people back to pre-Typhoon Haiyan conditions.

The Philippines has amazing local capacity and a strong civil society. We will work with our local partner, ACCORD and other local organizations to support their capacity and priorities.  CARE will remain engaged in Typhoon Haiyan programming for up to three years.

Our long term goal is not only to help people recover from this disaster, but to build resilience to future shocks, because the Philippines is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. In a 2011 report by the Centre for Research and Epidemiology of Disasters, the Philippines topped the list of countries hit by  natural disasters. Investing in disaster preparedness programs is key to reducing the risks for vulnerable populations.

What are the current challenges for CARE?

Needs are great, but we must to focus on providing quality relief items to the most vulnerable and affected people, to help them rebuild their homes and lives. Logistics, access to the most affected, availability of local resources, increasing prices of goods and operating conditions are our biggest challenges at the moment. Every day there is a new challenge, but we are making good progress!

What has struck you the most from what you have seen in the field?

I was struck by how quickly people are getting on with the process of rebuilding and moving on from this massive disaster.   I am also touched by the generosity of Filipino people, even though they have lost so much, they reach out to our emergency teams  with their hospitality and support to us.

With Christmas approaching, how do you think the affected communities will mark the holidays?

The fabric of Filipino culture is to support each other and focus on what’s important -- their family and friends. Their faith is strong, it pulls people together and many people will find a way to celebrate Christmas in spite of the devastation. In Palo, a small village I visited, they normally have a contest for the home with the best Christmas lights. They are trying to find an alternative way to celebrate and be  festive; and I'm sure they will.

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