Working towards a better future – Six months on from Typhoon Haiyan

8 May 2014   |   Blog   |   Philippines   |   Emergency Relief

One of the strongest tropical cyclones to ever make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan captured the attention of the world as it decimated the Eastern Visayas islands of Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, and devastated lives and livelihoods of over 14 million people. Six months on we remind ourselves of the strength, hope and resilience of the Filipino people, and touch on our work that was only possible through the generous support of the Australian community.

The ferocious storm

Local inhabitants, many who have experienced numerous typhoons before, were not prepared for the destructive strength and power of Haiyan – which has been ranked by the UN as a category 3 disaster (the highest ranking classification).

One survivor, Kristele Agote, 25, described her terrifying experience hiding with her daughter under the table at her grandmother’s house.

“We packed heavy things on top to stop it being blown away. It was suffocating and I began to vomit. At one point there was a huge thud – a coconut tree collapsed onto our roof. But it stopped it being blown away. We were cold and hungry and the children were screaming in fear.

“We have never experienced a typhoon like this. I feel very sorry for my little girl – she should never have had to experience this.”

When Kristele returned to her own home – built just three months ago – she found it completely destroyed. Only the modern toilet she and her husband installed stood where it had been before the storm. “We are living under this tarpaulin given to us by Caritas - at least it covers the hole in the roof. Caritas also gave us food. Everything was spoiled in the shops.”

The immediate response

The immediate humanitarian needs following Typhoon Haiyan were enormous. Millions of people were without shelter, and many of the hardest-hit areas had no water, food or electricity.

Through the generous support of the Australian community, Caritas Australia joined with the international Caritas network to provide emergency shelter, water and hygiene supplies, food aid, and psycho-social support to almost 650,000 people across 12 dioceses .

Debris left by the storm.

'John' Hermogenes Cortez Jr rebuilding his family home

Clearing and rebuilding from the ruins

As the news headlines gradually faded away, recovery work after Typhoon Haiyan continued.

Supported by funding from the Australian community, our partners on the ground worked with local communities to begin clearing away the destruction and debris from the typhoon.

“Most importantly for long term recovery, clearing of the land means that communities can begin to rebuild,” explained Luke Sypkes, Program Coordinator who assisted with the debris clearing.

Knowing how important shelter is in the aftermath of a huge disaster, Caritas has also been working on quick, inexpensive and effective ways to provide families with their own emergency shelter as they start to rebuild what the typhoon destroyed.

'John' Hermogenes Cortez Jr’s house was completely destroyed by the typhoon. With the wood John salvaged from the debris, he has worked with Caritas staff and volunteers who have helped to quickly build a new structure. Though intended as a temporary emergency shelter, John is looking to his shelter for longer-term use, joking that it’s “a permanent temporary shelter.” He has plans to use it as a base for making upgrades and strengthening it when he gets money. Read more »

Building a better future

Now that the emergency phase of the relief operations is concluding, the Caritas network is looking to the future and providing longer-term recovery support to build back their lives.

This phase will include working with families to rebuild dwellings which are comfortable and disaster resilient, using existing local skills in construction. In order to accommodate the variety of environments, damage of previous structure, and family needs, the communities will have a major say in the design of these structures.

In addition to rebuilding homes, we are also looking at reigniting the livelihoods of families, including farmers and fishermen. The work is about helping people return to their livelihood activities, and also helping to diversify their economic activity into new areas, so they are not dependent on one thing.

The grateful people of the Philippines

Kristele Agote, the young woman we met at the beginning, still has worries on her mind. Will there be another storm like Haiyan? “We hope it won’t happen again. To our place, to other people,” she whispers. But Kristele is determined to pick up the pieces and move forward, and is extremely grateful for the help she received from Caritas. “We want to thank every one of you who helped us, who donated to help us…”

The Philippines national Caritas organisation, NASSA, is also thankful to its fellow members of the Caritas family. “I thank the Caritas confederation, the people who came to help us, for their prayers, their concerns, their message of solidarity and their financial help. We truly appreciate what you are doing for us,” said Msgr Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Father Ivo Rodriguez, who tended to the injured and blessed the dead, finds both his faith and his belief in the compassion of humanity strengthened. “Something for which I thank God for because I am still here. Many of my neighbours didn’t make it,” says Father Ivo. “Thank you for your prayers – we really need them because we have lost everything. It’s what gives us faith.”

Learn more about the Typhoon Haiyan Aid response

Read more stories from Typhoon Haiyan at Caritas Internationalis' The Great Storm

Humanitarian aid must be a budget priority as large-scale emergencies push system to the brink [Media release]

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