David Gazashvili is CARE’s Emergency Team Leader managing the response to Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. David is in Ormoc, western Leyte, one of the hardest hit areas, and talks about the logistical challenges of such a massive relief operation.
I managed CARE’s emergency response to the massive earthquake in Haiti in 2010, but the response to the Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is so much more challenging than Haiti. This means that the response is taking longer which is frustrating when we know so many people need supplies now.
The disaster in Haiti was localized in a small area, so once the rubble was cleared from the roads, it was easy to drive and deliver aid. We could get everywhere affected in just two or three hours. The airport was functioning quickly, so things could be brought by air, or by road from the Dominican Republic.
Here, the disaster is spread across three or more islands. To get somewhere it takes days – not just for sending relief items, but for staff. You have to take a boat, and then a car, and the roads haven’t been cleared. Debris is everywhere. Fuel is not available. The boats are full. The lines are so big for the boats, and people are waiting hours just to find out that the tickets are sold out.
In Haiti, we had an office that hadn’t been affected by the quake. We had somewhere to sleep. Here, every building is flattened. Nobody has anywhere to sleep – not the people affected, not the officials, not the aid workers. The weather is horrible. It’s been raining a lot. The place where we worked from today has no roof, and it’s now flooded inside. That was our sleeping space, but we can’t sleep there anymore because it’s full of water.
Communications is also a huge challenge. Coordinating a massive emergency response over such a large area requires good communications to ensure we have all the information about who needs what where, to order supplies, and to work with other agencies to make sure we’re reaching everyone and not duplicating our work. In Haiti, the communications was restored very quickly. But here, the electricity is down, the phone lines aren’t working, there is no internet. Thank goodness for the satellite phones.
We’re looking at solutions, such as using shipping companies, private boats. We need to bring cars and trucks in by ferry. The government and international community are working to get the airport open in Tacloban and clear the roads. But it’s all taking time. It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing, knowing what we need to do to help, having good staff that can do it, but not being able to get the supplies in quickly enough.