Even for a country used to devastating natural calamities, this was almost unimaginable. Typhoon Haiyan brought a level of death and destruction that far surpassed the worst of times in the Philippines.
The super-typhoon left an appalling death toll. Some reports estimate 10,000 people may have died. Experts compared the devastation to the 2004 Asian tsunami that wreaked havoc in Indonesia, Thailand and South Asia.
The death toll is staggering, but millions of survivors are facing a desperate new struggle. The newly homeless are wandering streets strewn with debris and bodies. Food and water are in short supply. Bad weather is adding to the misery.
The Philippines has long been plagued by crumbling infrastructure, corruption, deep pockets of abject poverty and a rebel insurgency. Without huge amounts of outside help, this latest disaster may be too much for the nation.
The Philippines lies directly in the path of the most dangerous Asian typhoons. It was hit by another deadly storm just a few weeks ago, but Typhoon Haiyan stood out with its tsunami-like storm surge and winds estimated at 195 miles per hour before it hit land.
In many cases, “storm protection” turned out to be myth for those who huddled in churches, schools and government buildings.
Aid is beginning to arrive in the nation, but getting help to the hardest-hit areas will be a monumental task. Roads and airports were not in good shape before the storm. Endemic corruption in the Philippines means that money intended for housing, roads and seawalls never made it to those projects.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military’s Pacific Command to send ships and aircraft to help with search-and-rescue operations and carry emergency supplies. The United Nations and other countries and agencies are beginning to mobilize also.
There isn’t much anyone can do about the weather, but when some normalcy returns to the country, officials have to figure out how to mitigate graft that results in poorly constructed buildings that offer too little shelter, and hamper infrastructure improvement, making it nearly impossible to get in or out once trouble hits.
The need is so great it’s almost impossible to know how to begin. Food, clothing, shelter, medical supplies and especially clean water will be in short supply for a long time. Aid is piling up in the capital, Manila. The problem lies in getting it to the stricken region hundreds of miles away.
You can help the relief effort by donating money to one of the many relief organizations sending aid to the region. Those organizations include the American Red Cross, Americares, Lutheran World Relief, the American Jewish World Service and doctors without Borders, and there are many others.