Coordination 'critical' to Philippine typhoon response — UN

A scene in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan at the port of Ormoc City, one of the hardest hit areas in the Philippines. Relief operations for affected communities have been ongoing since Friday. Photo by: European Commission / CC BY-ND

After the world heeded the call for more aid to reach the Philippine region affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the focus now is on making sure the assistance given is effectively managed and distributed through coordination between donors, U.N. agencies, government departments, and foreign and local NGOs and development implementers.

As foreign aid pours in the country, it’s essential to funnel it where it is needed the most and through the correct channels to avoid overlap and duplication, according to a U.N. official.

“[Aid coordination] is critically important because it’s important to get supplies to those people who are desperately in need of them and whose lives are at risk if they don’t receive them,” Christopher de Bono, UNICEF’s regional chief of communication for East Asia and Pacific, told Devex. “It is all about making sure that there is no duplication and that we support each other and ultimately making sure people get what they need.”

Several major donors have pledged their commitment to provide assistance, including the World Bank, European Union, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.K. Department for International Development and Asian Development Bank, to name a few. Most of the aid is for immediate response (food, water and basic shelter items) as the situation continues to deteriorate in the storm-affected areas.

Both the local and the international response over the past few days has been seen as very encouraging, with the Philippine government spearheading relief efforts and the international aid community providing added manpower and survival kits.

But despite these actions, there is growing anxiety among some local leaders that aid is being focused too much on main urban centers like Tacloban and Palo in Leyte, the province that bore the brunt of Haiyan’s destruction. Local leaders from neighboring municipalities in Leyte and provinces such as Aklan are appealing for assistance too, as they were also badly damaged and people there are running out of food, water and other essential supplies.

“We are appealing to good-hearted individuals to send assistance in our municipality as majority of the people have been affected especially their livelihood and agricultural lands,” said Ramon Oñate, mayor of Palompon, Leyte.

Relief operations have been ongoing since Friday, as accounts of desperation continue and evacuation centers are in danger of being looted by hungry survivors armed with commandeered vehicles and weapons.

The Philippine government on Monday declared most storm-affected areas under a state of national calamity to fast-track relief efforts and rehabilitation, and also to allow the government to control the prices of basic commodities and services to make them available for the victims.

Needs-based relief assessment

To avoid duplication of aid delivery and ensure that everyone who is in need of relief is given assistance, knowing the situation and extent of damage is critical in any disaster response, De Bono said.

“One of the consequences [of lack of coordination] is that people don’t get what they need,” he explained. “You need to know who the people are, what they need and how much they need to be able to deliver it effectively. That’s the key to the process.”

This emphasis on needs-based relief assessment has been deployed in the Philippines ever since the onslaught of Typhoon Bopha in 2012 in Mindanao to ensure humanitarian assistance is distributed in an effective and efficient manner.

Aid must be distributed as evenly and fairly as possible to the people who need it the most, added Orla Fagan, public information officer at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Manila.

“We provide capacity training to government and other agencies in disaster relief and response. We also do information gathering to know who’s doing what and where and then we share it,” Fagan said. “We collect this information so people can see where the big gaps are to be able to respond to the areas more efficiently. It also serves fundraising purposes.”

But although people need basic commodities such as food, water and shelter, the OCHA official stressed that aid should go beyond providing these necessities. Aid groups should also invest in long-term measures so that people would be better equipped when the next calamity strikes.

Currently, more than 20 countries have committed to provide assistance to the country. The government has deployed around 800 police officers and soldiers in the affected areas to ensure peace and security and distributed more than 50,000 relief packs a day, according to the president.

But more help is needed.

So how can private individuals and other groups extend a helping hand? Several international organizations have established relief funds where private citizens and groups can make online donations.

Two of these pooled funds are the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund set up by Global Impact and the donations being aggregated by InterAction, a network of U.S.-based NGOs. The funds are supporting rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the affected communities and the long-term rehabilitation of the people.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.