Why Congress has a unique opportunity right now to maximize emergency response to Typhoon Haiyan


Tonya M. Rawe, Senior Policy Advocate, CARE USA

Typhoon Haiyan has captured worldwide attention – and an outpouring of support and solidarity – from the smallest rural towns to the densest urban centers to the climate change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.  

Almost 12 million people are affected. That’s more than the population of Ohio, the 7th largest state in the U.S. Among the nearly 12 million affected, 2.5 million need food – almost the entire population of Chicago. Some are going days without food, scrounging in what remains of their homes or standing in line for hours hoping for a bit of rice.

CARE is already working in the Philippines to deliver life-saving aid. In a disaster of this magnitude and complexity, the response must be fast, efficient, and effective: responders must have access to all tools and the ability to select the best tool.

Congress has an opportunity right now to enhance our ability to respond to disasters like Typhoon Haiyan with the best we have to offer by enacting reforms to U.S. Food Aid, reforms CARE has long called for. On the table: the ability to buy more food locally – like so many Americans do in farmers markets around the country.  

Food aid bought locally is closer to the crisis, so in a disaster when people are going days without food, it’s faster – as much as two months faster. And it’s cheaper:  30% to 50% cheaper, in fact. That means with the same amount of funding, we can reach more people. When 2.5 million people desperately need food, we have an obligation to stretch every dollar further.

Right now, the majority of U.S. food aid is purchased in the U.S. from our own farmers and shipped to disaster areas. When there isn’t food available in a disaster zone, we’ll still need to do that. U.S. farmers are an important part of a complex puzzle of response. And in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, the U.S. airlifted supplies to the affected areas of the Philippines.

But as the response to Typhoon Haiyan carries on, having the best tools at our fingertips means being able to source food from the best – closest, cheapest, fastest – location. As CARE delivers aid in the Philippines, we’re relying on supplies brought in when they aren’t available locally – but where we can, we’re already accessing local markets to enable quicker distribution.  

By supporting local markets, it means that we’re responding to urgent needs and we’re supporting the long-term development of the local economy, the long-term resilience of local farmers. In the coming months as communities begin to rebuild their lives, it will be vitally important to support them in every way possible to build back and to build back stronger. That means starting now to address immediate needs and to weave long-term development goals into that response.

We’ve seen bipartisan support for the proposed reforms before Congress right now, demonstrating momentum for the common sense changes before Congress. These proposed reforms – increased flexibility and increased efficiency – reflect the kind of choices all Americans are making – to stretch every dollar further – and with all the proposed reforms, we can reach 4 million more hungry people without costing an additional cent.