Thursday 5 December 2019

My abiding memory is stench of death in typhoon aftermath

A boy drinks water from a hose outside bunkhouses for Typhoon Haiyan survivors, which were built by humanitarian agency ACF (Action Against Hunger) International, in Tacloban city in central Philippines
A boy drinks water from a hose outside bunkhouses for Typhoon Haiyan survivors, which were built by humanitarian agency ACF (Action Against Hunger) International, in Tacloban city in central Philippines
Typhoon Haiyan survivors perform during a dance competition organised by South Korean soldiers as they commemorate the victims of last year's typhoon, in Tacloban city in central Philippines
An effigy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino burns during a protest, coinciding with a commemoration ceremony for Typhoon Haiyan victims who perished

Peter Power

This weekend marked the first anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines - the biggest ever recorded storm to make landfall in a populated area. Thanks to the generosity of Irish people, disaster-affected communities are now showing real signs of recovery and long term growth.

This was no ordinary Hurricane. It was a Category 5+. Literally, off the scale.

In the days after the Typhoon, I flew to Tacloban City to oversee UNICEF's emergency response. It is hard to convey the scenes of devastation I witnessed. Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed up to 90pc of the hospitals, schools and homes in its path. From the air, for hundreds of miles, the devastation was near total.

To put that in context, if this disaster had occurred in Dublin the entire city would be rendered uninhabitable. 12.9 million people were affected by Haiyan, including 5.4 million children, while 1.7 million children were displaced.

My most abiding memory is the stench of death in the air. Much of the time, I was required to wear a mask. The tragic consequences of this violent natural disaster will haunt me for a lifetime.

In the immediate aftermath, UNICEF initiated its highest level of emergency response, mobilising our global resources and personnel to the region. The task at hand for relief and recovery was enormous.

Our specialist staff was on the ground within the first days, beating formidable logistical and communications challenges in getting supplies and services to the people most in need. Those first deliveries included items such as water purification tablets, soap, medical kits, tarpaulins, and emergency food, generously funded by Irish supporters.

My proudest moment was when our specialist engineers helped get the city's water supply working again, allowing 150,000 people have access to clean water for the first time in a week.

In the past year, UNICEF has helped children find new homes, built new schools, reunited families and provided psychological support for those who lost loved ones.

Since Haiyan, more than 624,000 children have benefited from the distribution of learning materials and supplies to schools. Chryine is a teacher at a local elementary school. When the typhoon hit, 235kph winds ripped the roof off her house. Sheets of heavy rain poured into her home. "The water rose so fast that it was at shoulder level within minutes," she says. Her husband died in the disaster.

Three days after the typhoon, Chryine returned to school. UNICEF provided tents, furniture, books and other supplies that enabled her to get back to work.

As in all emergencies, education is vital for children to experience a normal routine in a safe place while parents can focus on rebuilding their lives.

Michael Lerios (14) is a Grade 6 student. "I want to finish my studies so I can give back to the people who helped me. I pray for them and wish them well so they can help more people in need," he says.

We are very proud of the fact that - as a result of hard work and enormous support from around the world - there have been no major disease outbreaks. Stability has been maintained despite the massive displacement of people and widespread loss of homes and livelihoods

In large part, this is due to UNICEF's strategic focus on health, sanitation and the provision of safe drinking water. We have provided 1.3 million people with safe access to clean water, including water kits, water treatment products and home storage containers. We have provided 504,000 children with school hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and a water tumbler. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Irish donors.

Our medical staff worked to strengthen the cold chain process that is essential to the effective distribution and use of vaccines. By deploying climate-smart equipment, 1.3 million children under five were vaccinated against measles. Together with our partners, we have supported over 68,800 caregivers of children aged one-23 months with appropriate nutrition for infants.

UNICEF would like to profoundly thank our loyal supporters throughout the country who make all of this work possible. Together, we have ensured that children in the Philippines are getting their lives back and have hope for the future.

In spite of the growing sense of recovery, the needs of children remain great and much is still to be done. UNICEF has been a consistent partner in the Philippines for the past 66 years, through countless emergencies, though none as big as Haiyan.

We were here before, during and after Haiyan, and we intend to stay for the long term.

The generosity of our Irish supporters makes this work possible.

Peter Power is a former Minister for International Aid and Development and the Head of UNICEF.

Irish Independent

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