Typhoon Haiyan portrays Philippines government as political disaster

A typhoon in the Pacific is not an extraordinary occurrence. But Typhoon Haiyan was. It has now been ten days since this super-typhoon wreaked havoc on the Philippines.

The storm hit with a ferocity of epic proportions, with winds reaching over 250 kilometers per hour. Bodies have lined the streets, basic supplies have been running low for days and there is a shortage of essential medical supplies — people have been left to die in hospital corridors. The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations have been too slow to respond to the crisis, and have also been hampered by an inefficient Filipino political system.

Reports of aid beginning to reach those most devastated by the typhoon have only begun to trickle through. Mindful of the inadequate response to the Haitian earthquake three years ago, relief workers are employing every tactic, including using social-media to allocate resources to the most vulnerable so that aid reaches the 10 million Filipinos affected by the storm.

Yet the United Nations and relief agencies have been stymied in their efforts to distribute food and medical supplies. The geographic scattering of the 7,100 islands and the fragmented infrastructure of the region are hindering aid efforts. While a strong stream of aid has reached the tourist city of Cebuand the capital of Manila, the coastal areas most impacted by the storm still remain cut off.

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These are some of the poorest areas of the country which lack any form of infrastructure. In the hardest hit city Tacloban, reports suggest over 10,000 people may have been killed. Without telephone lines operating, or any reliable infrastructure, NGOs face significant difficulties in delivering vitally required help. Left without outside help, many survivors have begun to loot until assistance eventually arrives.

The president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, declared the storm a “national calamity.” A political calamity would be more appropriate. For a corrupt government with little control over the archipelago nation, this storm represents a unique strain on a dysfunctional political system. It demonstrates the necessity for political reform in the region.

Relief workers have to work with the local government for logistical and practical reasons. If a more efficient political system existed in the region, it would have saved countless lives.

Typhoons are a grim fact of life, but we must do far better in dealing with the aftermath. Climatologists suggest that Haiyan shouldn’t be viewed as an event in isolation, but a portent of storms to come. NGOs have remarkably improved since the last major international aid effort in Haiti, yet the regions which are most susceptible to these disasters have yet to improve local infrastructure and governance. As Voltaire correctly stated, while “men argue, nature acts.”

 

Harry Brown is a staff columnist. Email him at [email protected]

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