Typhoon Haiyan: Diary of an aid worker
It began with a manic hour of packing an emergency kit containing the most basic essentials – there would be little waiting for me in typhoon-struck Tacloban – and calling friends and family to cancel plans whilst apologising profusely. They are used to this by now but I always feel terrible.
Soon, I was on a marathon journey with numerous layovers to the Philippines – the weather wasn’t making it easy to get in to a place that most people wanted to leave. When I finally arrived in Tacloban, the devastation and the need were immediately obvious.
Masses trying to leave
The scene greeting me was a teeming mass of people, each trying to secure a place on an elusive flight out of Tacloban. “We cannot survive in Tacloban,” they told me. “There is no food, no water, no medicine – there is nothing but looting and death here now”.
That was evident as we moved through the city centre. Tacloban was a morass of broken buildings, crumpled as old paper, and streets lined with piles of rubbish and human bodies. I knew I had arrived into a humanitarian nightmare, and it seemed hard to know where to begin, given the scale of the need, but that need was precisely what got us moving.
Team meetings by torchlight
To begin, our team set up base in a building damaged by the typhoon: it has no roof, no electricity, and floods regularly. The sun goes down here at 6pm and work continues in the darkness. Team meetings are held on the roof, by torchlight. The morning begins with a 5:30 wake-up call to gather water in buckets with which to wash. We survive on Pot Noodles and crackers.
There is so much to do and the limited infrastructure throws up challenges all along the way. On my second day, with limited transport available, I hitched a motorbike ride to an evacuation centre where I met 11-year-old Rafael and his family. He lost his father in the typhoon and is the man of the house now. He is clearly taking his job seriously and has built a new shelter for his family from an abandoned car, but his mother is worried about the future and asks me, “What now?” This must be a question facing many survivors.
Aid trucks – but no roads
For days, we’d been battling the logistical challenges of bringing large quantities of aid into a place where infrastructure, including airports and roads, had been all but destroyed, but with perseverance and dedicated teams our aid trucks finally made it in. We’d emptied warehouses across three continents and were bringing in essentials such as water, aquatabs, tarpaulin and hygiene kits.
Our team on the ground went into overdrive smoothing all the processes and our distribution went off without a hitch. The to-do list is still really long but at least now we feel the elation of knowing that such desperately needed aid is reaching those in need, and will continue to do so over the coming weeks and months.