Legacy of Typhoon Yolanda for global humanitarian response

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Head, International Federation of the Red Cross(IFRC) Country ClusterSupport Team

Beijing, China — Three years on, the humanitarian response orchestrated by the Red Cross Red Crescent movement in the wake of the devastation left by typhoon Haiyan can serve as a model for delivering emergency aid and coordinating rehabilitation efforts for large-scale disasters anywhere in the globe.

The outpouring of support and generosity shown by the world in the aftermath of Haiyan, which was most especially demonstrated by private sector partners and individual donors who answered the cry for help of Filipinos in November, 2013, has allowed millions of desperate survivors a second chance at life and enabled them to move on from the heartbreaking disaster.

With the Philippine Red Cross leading the way forward on all major initiatives, and with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies(IFRC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Movement Partners, Philippine and other foreign governments, socio civic organizations and multinational and local corporations, tens of thousands of families in the Central Philippines have been provided with shelter, livelihood support, water, sanitation, health and education programs since the storm hit in 2013.

This was done after a vigorous emergency response was executed by the PRC in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan, and in close coordination with the above-mentioned organizations, together with various National Societies of the Red Cross who sent their personnel to the Philippines to help out in the gargantuan task that lay ahead in rebuilding from the rubble that they were confronted with that time.

On the ground, the cumulative expertise and passion of these humanitarians, when melded to the generosity of everyone who supported the Red Cross during this crisis, made a tremendous difference in the lives of the survivors of Haiyan.

As a result, in a short span of time during the relief phase of the Red Cross operations, about 1.3 million survivors were reached with emergency assistance, including 90,000 families who were given cash to address their most pressing needs.

Even as that was happening, plans were already being drawn for an unprecedented scale of rehabilitation effort across the vast area affected by Haiyan, which was at a level that the PRC has never done before.

In retrospect, I can confidently say that the leadership of PRC Chairman Richard Gordon, and cooperation between partners and stakeholders, were responsible for the success of what happened next.

As the Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross then, I oversaw the rehabilitation efforts on the ground, coordinating various programs from the National Headquarters of the PRC, the most important of which was our shelter program.

In three years, the Red Cross Red Crescent movement was able to build or repair more than 75,973 homes in nine affected provinces.

Our livelihood program restored the ability of the survivors to fend for themselves by providing at least 63,221 households with cash support, enabling families to earn a living by putting up small businesses, or purchasing equipment to market their skills or practice their craft.

Singling out the youth for critical attention, we implemented training courses for more than a thousand young survivors, qualifying them for jobs in the housekeeping, welding and automotive industries.

In addition to that, the Red Cross also embarked on livelihood projects like rice mills water, refilling stations and organic farming.

And the Red Cross did all it could for the children, who are the most vulnerable members of the affected communities. Together with its partners, the Philippine Red Cross reconstructed and rehabilitated 490 classrooms, benefiting 39,165 school children.

Sanitation and education facilities for 32 schools were also improved, while 38 health facilities have been repaired and reconstructed, reaching 65,295 families and 29,273 students with hygiene promotions and sanitation.

The sheer scale of these operations boggles the mind even now, and they certainly stretched the capacity of the Philippine Red Cross at the time.

I am now currently on leave as PRC Secretary General, as I am serving as the Head of Country Cluster Support Team of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies(IFRC), overseeing Red Cross operations in the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, China, and Japan, but I recall with special fondness the people who served alongside me during these operations.

Because while these operations were being done, throughout the sleepless nights, the worry and anxiety and care to get all of these things done right and in the soonest possible time, the Red Cross operated as a single unit, from its leaders, to its officers, to the volunteers. It was hard, but it had to be done, and so it was.

What began as the worst natural disaster ever to hit the Philippines, now serves as a testament to the great resilience of the Filipino people, and the bottomless capacity of humanity ability to display compassion, aid, and support for the most vulnerable of our society.

The legacy of Typhoon Haiyan can also be felt in the more pronounced coverage in the media about natural disasters, and the increased responsiveness of the populace to the government’s warning and advisories about impending typhoons. That is a good thing, and shows that we, as a country, has learned our collective lesson.

And the world can certainly profit from learning how the Red Cross Red Crescent movement coordinated and executed vital life-saving programs with so many moving parts, amidst great challenges and time constraints.

Typhoon Haiyan left death and destruction in its wake, but it also brought out the best in everyone and showed the world just how vital the role of the humanitarian community can be during the most desperate times.

So now, even as typhoon Haiyan quietly recedes into the mists of memory and history, and we strive hard to move on, we can say with pride that even though we were severely tested, we did not break.

And that we are better as a country and a people for having gone through the worst and survived, even as we continue to grieve the loss of life and remember the trauma of that day in November of 2013 when the most powerful storm in history broke our hearts.

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