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Typhoon Haiyan: in the Crisis Management Room

The Operatations Room at RAF Fighter Command, Wiltshire, 1943 (Imperial War Museum)

The morning’s first email contained a piece of good news about typhoon Haiyan – not an event that has so far featured many glad tidings. Over 11 million people, more than 4 million of them children, have been affected and thousands have died; whole cities have been destroyed. Apparently a storm like this normally weakens when it makes landfall but the scattered nature of the Philippines islands means there was no land mass solid enough to achieve this. The result was a 300-mile wide swathe of airborne devastation.

A scrap of good news

The good news in question was the arrival of our flight, containing nearly 100 tonnes of aid, into Cebu, one of the worst-hit areas. This has involved the kind of logistics that can make your head spin. Our Crisis Management Room resembles an ops room from one of those Second World War films – all that’s missing are the wooden pointers and the uniforms. There are maps of the Philippines all over the wall, whiteboards with funding figures, priority lists, logistics calculations and strategy guidance. There are two clocks, one on London time, the other GMT+8: the time in the Philippines. Discussions range from the estimated arrival time of a medical team into Cebu to the possibility of getting space on a Hercules plane or the advantages of a military presence in a disaster area badly short of drinking water, since naval ships have facilities to convert seawater to fresh.

 Sourcing aid on three continents

We are sourcing aid on three continents to send to the Philippines and in these meetings we look at different ways of getting those vital resources where they are most needed. The priority is speed. The typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines, where roads are still blocked, seaports closed and airports damaged, are not easy places to access.

Thinking about the longer term

There is also the longer term to think about. At the moment, the public is being incredibly generous and aid agencies are mobilising their considerable resources – experts and food, blankets and water and medicines – to deal with the immediate needs of people whose lives have been devastated. But what about next week? Or next month? Media attention will move on and the public may be presented with another dreadful situation that requires their help but in the Philippines, many people will have been deprived of their livelihoods. The economy of these areas will remain devastated. People who have lost their homes, been subjected to terrible weather and no longer have functioning hospitals, may get sick. Children will be out of school and will need expert adult help to process the horrors they may have seen or experienced. And if crops have been destroyed, there is the risk of hunger.

Children come first

Our priority, here as always, is the needs of children – keeping them safe and warm, fed and calm, reuniting them with lost relatives or helping them work through the terrible things that have happened. We will set up Temporary Learning Spaces and Child-Friendly Spaces. We will bring in and distribute whatever aid is needed. We will spend the public’s money as was intended by all those who have given so generously: to bring the essentials to people whose lives have been blown apart by a 300-mile-wide catastrophe. All of this needs to be organised and implemented. It starts here.

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