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