Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Hidden Tragedies Behind Typhoon Haiyan

It is, in relative terms, old news at this point that the Philippines were struck this weekend by one of the strongest typhoons to date. Several days removed now, the death toll is perhaps in the tens of thousands (currently, the death toll is just under 2,500 but that number is expected to continue to rise), and the damage inflicted upon the archipelago is unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands of survivors are without shelter, food, or other essentials, and, most frighteningly, the damage is still only being surveyed.

The world has faced its share of natural disasters - Typhoon Haiyan has brought to mind for many the tsunami that decimated Indonesia in 2004 - but sadly, the international response is not always the same. Many critics have been quick to point out that the humanitarian aid provided to the Philippines has been minuscule up to this point. Washington, for its part, has pledged $20 million to help aid victims, in addition to sending warships and other personnel and support. The UN has asked for a total of $300 million, which it has not come close to receiving thus far. The aid that has been provided is being administered poorly, or too slowly - remember, there are countless who have been left with nothing, and are nervously awaiting assistance.

Contrast this to 2004. I understand the differences between the two disasters (the final death toll after the tsunami was roughly 275,000, with millions displaced), but let's look at the differences in international response nonetheless: on January 1, 2005 - six days after the tsunami made landfall - approximately $1.8 billion had been pledged in aid, and a coalition formed by Australia, India, Japan, and the United States in order to coordinate efforts and ensure that quick and efficient aid was administered.

Looking at this, its easy to be disappointed by the response thus far to last weekend's tragedy in the Philippines. But there are other variables to look at that are equally saddening. Because of rampant corruption in the Philippines, the domestic response to has been lackluster. This is further exacerbated by an astoundingly insufficient infrastructure system - poorly developed buildings and even entire neighborhoods stood no match to Haiyan, and a virtual lack of communication (keep in mind, the Philippines consists of roughly 17,000 individual islands) rendered each individual community on its own. There is no such thing as a storm warning system, and apparently little in place to handle these types of disasters, and this is all despite the fact that the Philippines is directly in the path of typhoons every year. This is not their first, and most likely not their last time handling the aftermath of one.

In places like the Philippines, more needs to be done in terms of storm preparation and investments in infrastructure such as seawalls, sturdier buildings, and improved communication networks. These are long-term strategies, which will be difficult to execute should money continue to flow to corrupt politicians in the Philippines when it should be funding important projects. Nevertheless, these are the sights that all eyes in South Asia should be set on. In the meantime, the international community should stand up and support the victims of such horrific devastation. With any luck, the Philippines will get back on its feet even stronger than before, but not without the assistance from world powers. Let's hope the aid continues to flow and we see less despondency in the Philippines - until then, I know that I will be thinking of them.

It goes without saying that individuals can help too. This article by NBC does a good job of listing the various organizations taking donations and providing disaster relief. I've already donated, and you should too.

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