Typhoon Haiyan: Q&A with UNICEF Emergency Expert
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Love your work, UNICEF do great things.Is it worse or better than CNN et al are saying? Blunt and open-ended question, but one which I guess must be asked.
It is very bad. The description from colleagues on the ground is this is very similar to what happened with the Indian Ocean tsunami, where at the epicenter of the typhoon, notably Tacloban, there is large scale destruction, debris is skewed all over, and access is made very difficult. In terms of responding to the needs, basic things like having fuel to move supplies is very difficult. And there is a large number of people who have been severely affected and displaced by this crisis. So this is for real. And, we need to make this a priority.
Hi Ted I admire the great work you and your organisation do. My question is what is the biggest problem you are currently facing in aiding those affected by this terrible disaster in the Philippines?
Access. Security. And the importance of mobilizing both the people, the supply, and the funds to support the national response and get the assistance to the people on the ground, in Tacloban but also in Ormoc and also areas in western Visayas that have been affected. We have staff in these locations, some supplies are already on the ground, and more on the way. Logistics will be key.
Once you get past the short term emergency, basic life-sustaining relief efforts, what does the transition to recovery look like? After water, food, sanitation are improved, what becomes the big challenge next?
This is an important question to start addressing from the very beginning. What is important is to work on the resumption of basic social services so there is a sense of normalcy and children can access these services. Amongst the most importance, is the resumption of education so that children are in a familiar environment and begin the healing process. In addition, children will need pyschosocial support, to deal with the stress that they have been under, including the possible loss of lives in their families and loved ones. We also need to start looking at early recovery and reconstruction activities from the get go, starting with water systems but also looking at health and education infrastructure.
How often do your relief efforts hit bureaucratic roadblocks? Which are the most irritating to have to handle?
The biggest obstacle right now, is access. The difficulties of reaching the population because of damaged infrastructure is one we need to overcome. We have gotten some portable latrines on the ground, and therapeutic foods, along with shelter and hygiene and sanitation kits. But more is needed. Supplies are currently being air lifted to nearby Cebu airport and being trucked across Leyte to Tacloban. This and security are the main and immediate concerns. We should also recognize that the Filipino authorities have been very helpful in allowing staff and supplies in with minimal bureaucratic hurdles. So the concern is really one of airport congestion, local infrastructure capacity, etc.
Wow, thank you for taking the time to do this! How does unicef prioritize its work in a situation like this? I mean, how do you even know where to begin?
We focus on children's needs, beginning with lifesaving requirements. In this kind of disaster, it first means looking at water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter, food, and health. Working with governments, we coordinate with different organizations so there is a division of labor and we avoid duplication. UNICEF also considers education to be a very important humanitarian requirement because children need a sense of stability or normalcy in the midst of the chaos, and education can be a safe space for children while they also continue to learn and grow. Finally, there are a number of child protection concerns in these situations, I have already mentioned the importance of identifying the importance of separated children and reuniting them with their families. There are also concerns about protecting children from violence, including sexual and gender based violence.
Will UNICEF support the use of crisis mapping and crowd sourcing to show where help is most needed?
There are a number of social media tools, SMS technology, mobile phone applications, that are important in determining as soon as minimal communication infrastructure is established, where help is most needed, to provide feedback also on the quality of what is received. Organizations like UNICEF need to be accountable to local populations and these different means of communication provide not only a channel to inform that population of what they can expect, but to also get feedback on the quality of what is being done and suggestions on how to improve it.
Hi Ted! How long will UNICEF's focus be on the Philippines? Is it just an effort to get people food and water in the short run or will you focus on the long run rehabilitation? Or is it a combination of the two?
UNICEF was in the Philippines before the crisis (we have been there for many years). We are there during the crisis, including with staff in Taclobon, Ormoc, Roxas. We will be there after the crisis to support the government of the Philippines and civil society with recovery and reconstruction.