Six months ago today, super Typhoon Haiyan (named “Yolanda” in the Philippines), the strongest typhoon believed to have ever made landfall, slammed into the Philippines. 14.1 million people were affected, with 4.1 million displaced, and losses and damages estimated at 14 billion dollars. Over 6,200 people died, and thousands more are still missing.
The world watched as Haiyan tallied horrifying statistics on the extent of devastation and destruction. Typhoon Haiyan struck as the Philippines, the most storm-exposed country on Earth, was still reeling from Typhoon Bopha and from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which hit a month before Haiyan.
Poor hit hardest
Even now, as we take stock of the incredible work that has been done in a very short time, the 2014 Pacific cyclone season is just beginning. An average 20 typhoons slam into the Philippines every year. If a major storm were to hit the affected areas now, we could be looking at a potentially much worse humanitarian situation.
The experience of Haiyan sealed what many development organisations have been asserting for years: that disaster risk is most real to the poor, marginalised and vulnerable sectors of society, including women and children.
These are the people who do not have the social safety nets and capacities to protect themselves and recover, and are therefore left to suffer the most during disasters and face the higher risk of losing whatever is left of their belongings – if not losing their own lives. In Haiyan’s story, this translates to 2.6 million of the poorest households, and 5.9 million children.
In the crucial weeks after the typhoon and leading to the 6 month mark, Plan International quickly mobilised resources around the world, channeling funds and donations to the Philippines to contribute to the response and recovery process.
The appeal has now generated more than 50 million dollars, one of the biggest contributions from children-based international non-governmental organisations to date.
Plan Philippines is supporting in 7 sectoral areas – protection and gender-based violence; education; health; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; early recovery, livelihood and agriculture; and shelter – including engagement in interagency clusters and partnerships.
To date, 143,171 households spread across 43 disaster-affected municipalities have already benefitted from Plan’s response and relief efforts – much higher than the planned coverage of just 22 municipalities and 75,000 households.
The extraordinary resilience of the Filipino people matched the world’s outpouring of support. On Plan Philippines’ end, harnessing our partner-communities’ creative energies and supporting them throughout the process of self-recovery became the focus of our response and recovery work.
Putting children at the centre
Essential in the recovery process is the inclusion of children: to see them not just as end-receivers, but as active participants in the process itself. Through our strategic alliances with other humanitarian organisations, we have organised a children’s multiple initial rapid assessment and other forums involving children, which leverage their meaningful participation as a way of informing disaster risk reduction planning processes, assessment of response plans, and post-disaster needs assessments.
We are also engaging children in more creative ways, providing them with the right tools and channels for communicating what they hold as important, and therefore the opportunity for them to become agents of change.
Building back better, safer
The experience of Haiyan brought many of us development and humanitarian actors face-to-face with the reality of a “new normal” now unfolding before us, redefining what used to be a business as usual approach to development.
Now, there is only the standard of quality projects with long-lasting benefits that help communities prepare for future challenges – where the only way to build, is to build back better and safer.
In the first few weeks after Haiyan, I have met farmers not begging for food, but for seeds to be sown so they can grow and harvest their own food. I have met children, who, despite experiencing severe trauma and loss, have by some miracle kept the twinkle of hope in their eyes.
I am always amazed by the positive attitudes of children in disasters and by how they cope with very difficult circumstances. Seeing children living in dangerous circumstances like these breaks my heart. But it also strengthens my resolve and that of my teams to persist in our work to contribute to a better quality of life.
The process of rebuilding will take years, and more medium-term investments in livelihoods, education and disaster risk reduction remains to be done. But what keeps us moving forward is that unbreakable Filipino spirit; that unique brand of resilience now known the world over.
Haiyan taught us many lessons in channeling our development and humanitarian efforts in more sustainable ways. Our beneficiaries taught us something much more invaluable – that in the face of a disaster, we do not give up hope, because, life, after all, goes on.