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Diary - Field experiences from the frontline of Typhoon Haiyan

23-04-2014

Several months after the Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the ICRC continues to rebuild lives

On 8 November 2013, the pristine coast of Southern Samar in the Philippines was turned into a junkyard of debris, rubble and corpses by a 350-kmph typhoon that washed away everything that lay in its path. To respond to the enormous needs created by the typhoon, the ICRC scaled up its efforts and began coordinating its response with the Philippine Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and National Societies from all around the world. Several months after the tragedy, the ICRC continues to rebuild lives and livelihoods of people in the devastated areas. The Regional Delegation of the ICRC in New Delhi also sent several staff members to support the rapid emergency response efforts to Typhoon Haiyan. In this edition of our newsletter, two of our ICRC staff members representing different departments of the New Delhi delegation share their experiences of being part of the ICRC’s rapid deployment mechanism while also highlighting the challenges of responding to complex emergencies.

 

When I reached the devastated coastline of Southern Samar, all I could see was uprooted coconut trees fallen like matchsticks, houses reduced to empty squares of land and hospital roofs and equipment floating in the flood water. The bodies of those killed in the typhoon had been washed away to another island. Water sources were destroyed and children could be seen all along the 150-km coastline, begging for anything they could get. It was a picture of complete destruction.

Even delivering aid was a daunting task because of lashing rain and the never-ending cycle of cyclones

As a communication delegate, part of my job was to help the media tell the story of what had happened and what was being done to provide much-needed assistance to the victims.

While the weather conditions remained tough, the biggest challenge was to get the media to shift focus from the over-concentrated Tacloban city to remote areas and coastlands where the damage was massive but remained under-reported.

Even delivering aid was a daunting task because of lashing rain and the never-ending cycle of cyclones, but having clocked over thousands of miles with daily trips punctuated by walks through the rubble, destroyed houses, empty kitchens and closed schools in the affected areas, what kept me going is the great resilience of people with even greater needs.

— Atishay Abbhi, Communication Officer, ICRC New Delhi

 

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As a Restoring Family Links (RFL) data administrator, I was sent to Manila to support the Social Services department of the Philippine Red Cross Headquarters (PRC HQ) in handling the numerous requests by people trying to establish contact with their family members in the affected areas. After putting together an RFL team with newly recruited volunteers, the first challenge was to find an efficient way to centralize all the information collected by paper, phone and e-mail. Then, in the second stage, we launched a specific search page for Typhoon Yolanda on the familylinks.icrc.org website. From then on, this website became the main entry point of the family links network, where people could check lists of names of people who were alive and safe and register details of their missing relatives.

The website was updated accordingly, with the help of the ICRC headquarters in Geneva. Of the 35,000 requests received in the first week, in around 1,000 cases, people continued to remain missing more than 10 days after the typhoon hit the Philippines. These cases were pursued actively by the teams.

— David Vaucher, Restoring Family Links Data Administrator, ICRC New Delhi

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Photos

The ICRC - Philippine National Red Cross distribution centre in the city. The distribution aims to provide around 5600 families affected by typhoon Haiyan with basic food and nonfood items 

The ICRC - Philippine National Red Cross distribution centre in the city. The distribution aims to provide around 5600 families affected by typhoon Haiyan with basic food and nonfood items
© ICRC / G. Brecht