land of typhoons
Every year, 20 typhoons pay a visit to the Philippines. In their wake, they leave towns and cities bursting at the seams with flood water that residents must wade though in order to get to their jobs and homes.

This is what residents of Quezon City had to deal with again as Typhoon Rammasun hit. The numbers were huge: 12,000 people were displaced, 38 people were killed when Rammasun hit this land of typhoons and at least eight were missing shortly after the storm.

People’s homes, 19,000 in all, were left damaged.

Meanwhile, in the town of Noveleta, people braced against 185 mph wilds. The typhoon cut across Luzon, shutting down the capital and leaving a trail of blackouts and ravaged trees as it passed.

Then it set course for Southern China.

Before the storm had even reached the country, China was already feeling its effects. Heavy landslides and rainfall killed 45 people before the full brunt of the storm could even be felt. Torn-apart power lines plunged the region into darkness, and 21 people went missing. China prepared for the oncoming 140-kilometer-per-hour winds that had yet to come.

For the Philippines, the aftermath of Rammasun serves as a bad memory of the destruction caused last November by Typhoon Haiyan. The November storm killed over 5,000 people and left more than 1,600 missing, surging the ocean into massive, tsunami-like waves that surged onto land.

Unidentified bodies found resting places in mass graves.

But the problems weren’t buried with the Philippines’ dead. More than one million people have been left financially devastated with the destruction of 33 million coconut trees across the country. The trees, which will take eight to 10 years to grow back, served as the livelihood of poor Filipino farmers.

Sixty percent of farmers in the Philippines were already impoverished, and the November blow Haiyan delivered made their situation desperate.

Farmers weren’t the only group affected; with 30,000 boats destroyed in Haiyan’s massive waves, the livelihoods of poor fishermen were also at stake. They now face relocation in regions far from the coast, preventing them from returning to their trade even with the restoration of their fishing vessels.

With Rammasun’s latest rampage, the farmers and fishermen of the Philippines are now in serious need of aid.

– Rachel Davis

Sources: CBC News 1, CBC News 2, Oxfam
Photo: The Australian

haiyan philippines
Eight months after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the Central Philippines, villages are recovering, but not quickly. Many in the post-Haiyan Philippines are still displaced and lack proper protection for 2014’s Pacific typhoon season.

The storm was a category five, the highest a typhoon can be rated, and was one of the most intense in recorded history. It affected 12.9 million people, 13 percent of the country’s population, killing almost 5,000 of them. With 1.9 people left homeless and 2.5 million in need of food, there was a great necessity for emergency response. The response, for the most part, was met with great success, but just because the Philippines met its goal of immediate clean water, food, sanitation and temporary shelters, does not mean that the problem has been dealt with.

The situation in the post-Haiyan Philippines is all too familiar. As with most natural disasters, there is a period of time after they happen during which the world takes a special interest in the plight of those affected. Foreign aid and donations pour in from all across the globe, helping to supply emergency food and water as well as preventing the outbreak of disease and any breakdown in law and order. All of these efforts were successful in the Philippines, but then the story faded out of the news and soon enough people began to focus less and less on the conditions of the Filipinos, and the physical rebuilding of villages has been slow.

So far, fewer than 150 new permanent homes have been built out of a necessary 200,000. Many people are living on the streets, in temporary shelters that do not meet the safety requirements put in place by the government in order to withstand high winds, heavy rain and flooding. Many Filipinos have expressed anger at their government for not speeding up the resettlement process. One man, Toto Andrada, told CNN that, “the money is here–it’s just taking so long for the government to release it. Why?”

A big reason why has to do with bureaucracy for the government’s Building Back Better plan. The new homes being built have to meet more conditions than ever before, including the building’s infrastructure has well as the land it is built on. Meeting these new conditions has proved time consuming, at the expense of current living conditions.

A report by the United Nations labor agency has found that the number of children involved in dangerous manual labor has increased in 39 percent of 112 surveyed villages since the typhoon hit. This increase in child labor is likely the result of families being ripped apart by the storm, as well as higher rates of poverty. Often, when families need money desperately, parents will resort to removing their children from school and enlisting them in the work force.

The slow recovery may even prove disastrous, as those who were displaced by typhoon Haiyan are at a greater risk should the Philippines be hit by another typhoon. Unfortunately, recent weather reports are siting typhoon Neoguri as the latest threat. Neoguri is expected to develop into a super typhoon, just like Haiyan was, and could prove damaging to the northern Philippines, although the blunt force of the storm is expected to impact Japan’s island of Okinawa more than anywhere else.

Neoguri is the first super typhoon of 2014, but more storms are expected to impact the area throughout the summer and into autumn.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: CNN 1, CNN 2, Huffington Post, Relief Web
Photo: The Sunday Morning Herald

Outdated Aid Regulations Cause Delay
As debates about the farm bill and its implications for international food aid continues in the United States, those in critical need find themselves left even more vulnerable by ineffective aid regulations and spending that is both burdensome to taxpayers and wasteful of resources and lives.

It has been a month since Super-Typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation across the Visayas in the Philippines. Around 14 million were impacted while 4 million were displaced and are without homes. Moreover, while the Philippine authorities are feeding 1.4 million people a day, the government is being blamed for not doing more. The logistics of delivering aid in the Philippines are further complicated by geographical constraints that must be surmounted like the fact that the nation is made up of 7,107 islands.

The reality on the ground means that ineffective aid is a waste of money and an indefensible waste of lives if it is not delivered to those who need it when they need it. The antiquated rules written by Congress in the 1950s limit our abilities to assist those in need simply for the formality of enforcing regulations. Congress, in fact, has the power to waive these regulations and can do so immediately to reach more people in need without any additional costs to taxpayers.

The troglodytic regulations currently in place requires the majority of U.S. food aid to be shipped on U.S. ships from preferred U.S. growers. As such, the food aid being delivered to the typhoon survivors has to be shipped more than 11,000 nautical miles to the Philippines, even though there are local food suppliers much closer to the crisis with the ability to provide supplies at a much lower cost.

As it stands, the current rules prevent aid agencies like the World Food Program from purchasing food from the closest and most cost-effective sellers. Moreover, these regulations cause delays in delivering aid because of red tape, sometimes taking four to six months to reach its final port after being shipped from the United States. Even worse, food aid is often monetized. When nutritional items are purchased from domestic American farmers and then sold abroad in places where food could be purchased locally, damage local economies can be damaged.

Currently, the money spent on food aid is being wasted. Of monies spent, 37% goes to food and 53% is spent on shipping, markups for shipping regulations, markups for preferred American growers and overhead. Special interest rules like this cost the American taxpayers more than $491 million dollars per year.

Fifty-three cents out of every dollar we spend on basic grains for food aid ends up in the pockets of middlemen as a result of red tape and regulations. To put this further into perspective, for the same price of food aid to Ethiopia we can ship 2,200 tons of wheat from the U.S. or purchase 5,400 tons of wheat from local growers.

Both tax payers and those waiting desperately for aid to survive certainly deserve more. If the United States were to deliver aid more effectively by scrapping outdated regulations, the U.S. could respond 14 weeks faster and reach up to 17.1 million more people without any additional costs to tax payers and without unnecessarily losing any additional lives.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, Oxfam America

Disasters not only pose a humanitarian disruption, but also a developmental challenge. Among the destruction, displacement and chaos, it can often be difficult for development and relief agencies to efficiently disburse aid. Typhoons like Haiyan are especially difficult, as the scope of the damage done is still unknown.

A report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition named the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as one of the worst disasters in terms of international response. Relief agencies showed the greatest weakness in understanding cultural complexities, catering to the local context and working with local communities and organizations, states the development agency called Devex.

Luckily, Haiyan respondents have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Roger Yates of Plan International presents his list of 10 tips for NGOs engaging in disaster response, many of which focus on a piqued awareness of local context. His recommendations, as reported in Devex, are as follows:

1.  Focus on priorities.

There is too much to do at once, so it is crucial to start with the most pertinent tasks and work from there. Flexibility is also important, as priorities may change as the situation develops and circumstances change.

2. Understand the role of the military and government.

It is important for NGOs to understand how the military will contribute to relief efforts, such as transportation and security oversight. NGOs should provide complementary assistance, but not override governmental directives.

3. Work with local elected officials and other community leaders.

Locals will have a valued knowledge of the disaster location. NGOs should work closely with grassroots organizations and community leaders to tailor their relief efforts.

4. Keep the public in affected communities informed.

NGOs should disburse messages concerning when and where to receive aid, public health information and notices concerning missing persons. TV, radio and notice boards are all good resources.

5. Work collaboratively, not independently.

NGOs are only one part of an international effort and must behave in this manor. Other actors will bring a diverse set of skills that can be utilized in conjunction with NGOs.

6. Go the extra mile;find the most vulnerable and worst affected people.

Disadvantaged groups, such as women and young girls, will need a special set of needs which may require more effort on behalf of relief agencies.

7. Don’t underestimate the importance of mental health.

Disasters create mass amounts of trauma. NGOs must work with individuals to reduce stressors and provide mutual support.

8. Support local markets and move to cash transfers as soon as possible.

NGOs should work to support local markets and reinstate stability. Purchasing local goods and giving money directly through cash transfers will help to restart the economy.

9. Build up two-way communication with the local public.

NGOs must be transparent about their efforts and utilize media outlets to communicate with both the local population and other agencies. Also, NGOs should welcome feedback from the local community.

10. Building permanent houses is difficult.

It may take many years before it is possible to construct quality permanent houses, but it is better to keep temporary housing than to hastily rush into building permanent structures. NGOs must be patient and accurately assess the situation before moving forward.

Plan International operates in more than 50 countries worldwide to promote children’s rights and alleviate poverty.  The organization has already raised more than $13 million to Haiyan relief and has several programs at work on the ground in the Philippines.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Plan International, Devex
Photo: Coloribus

Located in the northwestern Pacific, comprised of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines suffers more storms each year than any other nation in the world.

To date, Typhoon Haiyan is the most catastrophic natural disaster to strike the Philippines. More than 9.7 million people have been affected, with over 3 million of them being displaced due to the storm.

The death toll continues to rise, hitting 3,637 casualties. In a country where poverty and inequality remain a challenge, climatic disasters only thwart the growth of the economy and the citizens.

Typhoon Haiyan destroyed 384,000 acres of rice, corn, and other crops, totaling $105 million worth of damage. These crops are staples in the diets of Filipino culture and countries surrounding them; the damage  is a devastating blow.

With the recent FARM bill heavily under debate in the House and Senate, Congress is in a position to provide the U.S. international food aid program with the flexibility necessary to effectively respond to natural disasters.

Just days after Haiyan struck the Philippines, the USAID’s Office of Food for Peace devoted $7.75 million from the International Disaster Assistance account. These funds will be used to purchase foods for the Philippines and neighboring countries in need.

Currently, 1,100 tons of rice positioned in Sri Lanka are in transit to the distraught area, but are not expected to arrive until December 2. In addition, 55 tons of emergency food products were airlifted from the U.S. to provide aid.

The United States is the top respondent in the world to humanitarian crisis situations around the globe. America’s humanitarianism displays the desire to help others that runs true to core human values.

Yet with food aid come various restrictions that deter not only the process of giving assistance, but the steps to receiving it as well. Food aid restricts the U.S. to only being able to send nutrients that are grown on U.S. soil.

The commodities are then shipped across the ocean; had the U.S. sent rice rather than Sri Lanka, it may have taken 10-12 weeks to arrive. This timeline can be twice as damaging as the storms themselves, considering the starvation and hunger needs that take place immediately after a natural catastrophe.

The argument currently under scrutiny is that it would be much more beneficial to send money; a resource that can be received immediately with limited restrictions.

Although the United States was able to provide financial support, had Typhoon Haiyan taken place at any other time, assistance may not have been available. Due to stipulations on aid, the U.S. may have been limited on cash from responding to crises earlier in the fiscal year.

The U.S. government does not have the flexibility to purchase food resources in any market except its own – a crippling factor that prevents America from being able to reach its full potential of assistance.

Even with the support that has been provided, Typhoon Haiyan has emphasized major errors that exist within food aid. This past spring, President Obama proposed a total reform of food aid. This presidential bid would have forced Congress to consider food aid a foreign aid issue – separating food aid from domestic agricultural issues.

In turn, this would have removed the stipulations that currently surround food aid. President Obama’s proposal was rejected, however, and the FARM bill continues to be ironed out in a special committee in Congress.

Samaria Garrett
Sources: Common Dreams, Fox News, Brookings