Returning to Tacloban to see the relief effort in full swing

Publié: 27 novembre 2013 17:47 CET

By Nichola Jones, IFRC, in Tacloban

Arriving in Tacloban 48 hours after the typhoon had shattered the city was an experience I will never forget. More than 200,000 people had seen their homes completely destroyed while for many others, that loss was combined with the tragedy of losing loved ones in the storm.

When I came back to the city two weeks later, I flew in a small propeller plane on a commercial flight from Cebu. It was an emotional trip for many of the other passengers who were from Tacloban or had friends and family in the city. The TV footage of the destruction has been ubiquitous on news channels across the Philippines and the world, but for many on the flight, it was the first time they had seen the damage for themselves.

As we flew along the Leyte coastline, the carnage below was clear – vast swathes had been wiped clean of houses, trees and roads.

The scene of utter devastation was repeated across many towns and villages. Water, medicine, food, shelter and fuel are all crucial for these communities as they battle to rebuild their lives in the coming weeks, months and years. Doctors are delivering babies in the dark, families are huddled together in roofless evacuation centres and the risk of disease remains high.

But the Red Cross is making a difference here – thousands of families have received vital aid supplies, water and sanitation experts are working to provide clean water and specialist health teams are setting up field hospitals right now.

As I drove through the city from the airport, it seemed that much had changed in the two weeks since my last trip. The airport is buzzing with NGOs and military aid, and the 25 minute journey through town felt calmer. Flood water still swamps the rubble in many areas and people continue to live among dangerous debris of their old lives. But I saw a handful of stalls by the roadside, lit up by firelight and selling a small selection of items such as household goods or sweets – something that seemed impossible a fortnight ago.

Food distributions are happening daily. Hygiene and shelter kits are available and specialist teams of sanitation experts are working to install latrines in affected areas. Blueprints are being drawn up for how to rebuild the hundreds of villages and towns flattened across the affected islands with cash-for-work schemes planned to inject money into the local economy and enable people to be able to earn what they will need to buy materials to rebuild their houses.

Aid is getting through – the evidence of that is apparent every day – but, perhaps inevitably, much much more needs to be done, and it needs to be done quickly.

The scars of the disaster are deep and are borne not just by the landscape but also physically and mentally by the local people.

Jennifer Chico, who runs the Tacloban branch of the Philippine Red Cross, spent four hours clinging to the roof of the operations centre with her two children, aged four and eight, and 14 other volunteers. They were forced to flee the one-storey building when a torrent of black water rose to 2.5 metres high in fewer than 90 seconds. Jennifer was flung into the water as she tried to climb a rope onto the roof but she managed to claw her way out of the surge and survived, cradling her two children and trying to shield them against the violence of the storm. But she told me today about other Red Cross members whose families did not escape unharmed.

One long term volunteer was carried out of his house by a giant wave. He managed to hold on to his wife but his mother and his daughter were killed. His daughter would have turned two years old a few days after the storm and Jennifer explained how they had decided to mark the toddler’s birthday.

“I felt that we should do something for her because she was like a god daughter to everyone here,” she said.

“On her birthday, I was with her father and somehow we found one cupcake and I lit two matches and stuck them on top and I sang Happy Birthday. I don’t know how I managed to sing but I thought it was important.”