MANILA — Despite a massive mobilization of assistance from countries around the world, a representative for a U.N. relief agency says emergency aid remains “in the red” in the Philippines one month after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the islands.
Because of the large number of residents affected, the geographic spread of the disaster and the level of destruction, 60% of people are still without emergency shelter and a regular food and water supply, said Bernard Kerblat, representative for the relief agency UNHCR.
As a result, aid organizations remain focused on meeting basic needs, while at the same time trying to prevent what he calls the “silent killers.”
Aside from caring for those who were sick before the typhoon and the 26,000 wounded by it, Kerblat said, “We have to worry about tetanus cases from the exposed debris, and silent emergencies such as Leptospirosis (a bacterial disease), which you find in congested areas with not enough latrines and clean water.”
The storm slammed into the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving more than 5,700 dead and displacing more than 4 million residents. More than 1,700 remain missing.
Alex Comendador, 46, a local councilor in hard-hit Tacloban, says his family has received aid supplies just three times in the past month because they’re not living in evacuation centers, where much of the distribution efforts have been focused.
While Comendador says he is grateful his wife and three children survived, he’s also plagued by memories of the past as well as fears for the future of his city.
When a storm brings heavy rains and strong winds to the city, he says, “It jogs our memory — suddenly there are many unresolved feelings — some of us feel extremely disappointed and frustrated, so guilty because we (were) not able to help the others …survive. We really don’t know how to find peace.”
Although Comendador says organizations have set up “cash for work” jobs to help survivors, he wonders how long such positions will last and what residents will do to earn money and repair their homes when the groups leave. He also wonders how the city will ever feel normal again.
“My heart is broken and bleeding for my suffering people,” Comendador says. “I deeply grieve for those who have died, but how can we still lead a normal life with so much worries, disappointment and frustrations?”
Throughout Tacloban, scenes of contrast are as widespread as the extreme destruction.
“In some areas, the streets have been cleared and it’s amazing,” said Kathryn Donavan, a spokeswoman for UNICEF. “But what you see not too far away from there is unbelievable — piles of debris and cars upturned.”
And often, where there are signs of renewed life, remnants of death remain.
“Normal life is sprinkled here and there. You see a barber in the ruins is already cutting hair, there are some sari-sari (home-based) stores reopening — but next to it, you see debris clearance, trucks running around with at least one or two bodies inside,” Kerblat said.
Despite the overwhelming task of rebuilding ahead, Kerblat says the brightest light and greatest source for optimism is something the typhoon did not destroy — the perseverance of Filipinos themselves.
“We arrive in villages and are met by people who survived — they are hungry and sometimes injured, but they come and help and unload the trucks — carrying heavy supplies that require physical strength they don’t have.” Kerblat says. “This resilience and spirit of helping each other does not exist everywhere.”
Donovan calls that spirit a “silver lining in this dark cloud Haiyan brought.”
“The people of the Philippines have shown the world what it looks like to be tough as nails, sweet as honey, with more bounce than a pail full of ping-pong balls,” Donovan says. “With that kind of resilience, its only a matter of time before things are better.”