On 8 November 2013, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit land tore across the Philippines. With winds exceeding 300 kilometres per hour, Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people, damaged 1.1 million homes, and left more than 4 million people displaced.
Manuel Jagourd, Head of Emergency Response, and the team of first responders were on the ground in the Philippines within 48 hours. He recalls those first few days and what Medair has been doing since to help vulnerable Filipino families recover:
The wreckage was astonishing. When I first arrived, it seemed like everything was flattened – trees, homes, shops, health clinics – all this contributed to a feeling of total destruction. I was among the first responders in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, but the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan seemed worse at first glance.
Together with the local authorities, the United Nations, and other relief agencies, we quickly worked to identify the most severely affected communities and respond to the most urgent needs. Medair chose to focus on remote and rural communities to the south that were not receiving any help. We discovered that four out of five homes had been damaged or destroyed in the area of Dulag, Leyte Island, so we began to respond to the needs there.
Reaching the disaster zone proved particularly challenging because so much of the country had been impacted by the typhoon. Across the Philippines, airports were closed, roads were blocked, and fuel shortages and power outages were commonplace. You have to be creative during emergencies, so we decided to charter a small dive boat to transport urgently needed relief items to Dulag.
Some families were already starting the process of rebuilding by salvaging materials from the rubble, and trying to rebuild with cartons, scraps of metal, and wood. Others were still seeking refuge in schools or evacuation centers, too afraid of returning home or having no home to return to.
AN URGENT NEED FOR SHELTER
Quickly our team understood that shelter was the priority. It was simply a question of saving lives. We began working to bring shelter and essential relief items to Dulag and to nearby Tolosa and Julita. In the days and weeks following the disaster, our team distributed emergency shelter materials and handed out chainsaws, shovels, saws, wheelbarrows, rope, and other tools to help people clear debris and make emergency repairs to their homes. Medair also provided almost 5,000 households with water and hygiene kits to help families avoid illness in the wake of the disaster.
By the end of 2013, we had handed out more than 1,700 tarpaulins to families whose homes were damaged, and more than 14,500 people had received emergency shelter materials from us.
BUILD BACK BETTER
Even in the initial emergency response phase, we were already thinking of the recovery phase. Our main concern was, “How will we help these vulnerable people truly recover?” So in the new year, our team started constructing 600 “progressive core houses” for the most vulnerable families – core structures that are typhoon-resilient and adaptable to the families’ preferences.
”Build back better” is not a slogan, but a Medair commitment to these Dulag families. The stronger structures are designed to more effectively stand up to inevitable future typhoons, so that the most vulnerable families will be better prepared to cope.
Part of this commitment is to train local carpenters in these dramatically improved building techniques. Simply providing better materials without training on how to utilise them would not make a sustainable difference.
Our team is dedicated to standing with these Filipino communities until they have recovered fully. To that end, we plan to construct another 1,080 “progressive core structures” this year. It’s important to us that they know they are not alone in this crisis.
Manuel Jagourd has worked in disaster relief since 1989 and has been Head of Emergency Response with Medair since 2010, responding in Haiti, the Philippines, and to the Syrian Crisis.