5 Mistakes To Avoid After Haiyan - Lessons From Past Disasters

U.S. Marines help Haiyan victims
U.S. Marines help Haiyan victims
Julie Farrar

TACLOBAN — The pictures emerging from the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan last weekend show utter devastation.

Experts will say that no two natural disasters are ever the same, yet it can often be useful to learn from reactions to past calamities.

United Nations agencies were quick to announce the call for funds to support the victims of Haiyan, with estimates of some 11.3 million people affected, including 670,000 displaced, according to Geneva-based daily Le Temps.

As of Thursday, the official death toll from Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, was nearing 2,300, with some estimations that it could increase to 10,000. About 285,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami, most of them in Indonesia. The Haitian government estimates that the earthquake in 2010 took 316,000 lives.

Here are Five Key Lessons to minimize the toll in the aftermath of a major disaster:

1. Pull Together, Don't Duplicate
“I think one of the most critical lessons which we have learned time and time again, especially with Haiti and the tsunami in Asia, is the importance of coordination in the relief efforts,” explains Patrick Fuller of the International Red Cross. “You have a lot of aid and people coming in, organizations and individuals who genuinely want to help but are not aware or are not used to an established coordinating mechanism.”

Elisabeth Byrs of the UN's World Food Programme says the keyword is logistics. "It’s fine to send food or shelter but they can be destroyed," she explained. "Storage and equipment must be in place before any distributions can begin."

The Korean Red Cross mobilise. Photo by Park Jin-Hee/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS

2. Work With The Locals
When a natural disaster has not damaged the state structures, reports Nouvel Observateur, it is necessary to integrate national institutions to manage the organization for help. Municipalities have a real responsibility in the logistics of aid arriving in decluttering the ports and airports, says François Grünewald of the aid group URD (Urgence, Réhabilitation, Développement).

People in Tacloban collect gas at damaged gas station. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua/ZUMA

3. Act Now, Plan Now
Rebuilding and allowing access to affected areas is what must be prioritized now. “Providing immediate aid such as food, water and shelter is important, but relief efforts should also cover what is needed after the emergency phase — like education, sustainable health care, housing and livelihood — to facilitate sustainable solutions for the victims,” said Martin Mulligan of AusAid.

Photo by Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS

4. It's The (Local) Economy, Stupid
“Today in the Philippines, we will take care of the logistics and help build local capacity. For example, we are renting onsite fishing boats to deliver aid," says an official from Handicap International. "This will reactivate local NGOs who are more familiar with the areas and villages who need it the most. We’re sourcing everything as locally as possible: plastic sheeting, blankets, buckets; anyone who has a small business should continue to sell their products."

5. Don’t Forget The Dead
The BBC reports that officials have begun burying some typhoon victims in mass graves. The confirmed death toll stands at more than 2,300, but it is likely to rise. With this kind of damage, says Grünewald, “Corpses are everywhere and often thrown into mass graves. The identification of bodies and returning them to their families is essential because it then has implications on the land and inheritance, as well as the long-term psychological consequences.”

Photos: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua/ZUMA

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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