“Race for Survival” takes on a new meaning in the Philippines

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Racing to raise awareness on children’s health and nutrition during emergencies. (Picture provided by Save the Children)

Along with staff in 67 other countries, the Save the Children Philippine Country Office simultaneously hosted a children’s relay marathon race on October 17, 2013 titled “Race for Survival” to raise awareness for children’s health and nutrition during emergencies.  Within a month of this advocacy campaign to influence the national and local governments to prioritize children’s nutritional needs in disasters, conflicts, and other emergencies, the people of the Philippines were put to the test in unimaginable ways.

Haiyan, the world’s strongest typhoon this year and possibly the most powerful to ever hit land, decimated towns and flooded villages in the central islands of the Philippines on November 8, 2013.

Because communications were cut off to the affected areas, it was impossible to know the full extent of the casualties and damage, even 5 days after the disaster.  The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that out of 11.5 million people affected by the Typhoon, 544,606 people remain displaced.  Save the Children estimated that 3.9 million children are affected.  The Philippine Red Cross estimated over 1200 deaths in Tacloban City alone while the local police estimated the death toll at 10,000.

In anticipation for the Super Typhoon, locally known as Yolanda, Save the Children pre-positioned an emergency assessment team of six in some of the hardest hit areas before the storm arrived so they can be the first on the ground to provide support.  The team took shelter in one of the sturdiest buildings in the Department of Education compound, but window after window broke from one room to the next and they retreated to a safe room as trees were crashing through windows and roofs were blown off of houses around them.  Thankfully, the team survived the storm.  We were worried especially since we didn’t hear from them for 3 days and their equipment ended up soaked and damaged.

Now in the aftermath of this catastrophe, Save the Children has quickly deployed response teams to Cebu, Tacloban, and the Panay Islands to distribute emergency kits to children and their families, including water purification supplies, toiletries, cleaning items, temporary school tents, and education materials.  Emergency specialists with disaster response background were flown in from every part of the world to assemble the most capable team possible dedicated to what would be a long and arduous relief and rebuilding effort, which is listed at Category 1 – Save the Children’s highest emergency response ranking.

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Save the Children Philippine Country Office sending supplies to Tacloban (Picture supplied by Save the Children)

Prior to this catastrophe, Save the Children was already responding to emergencies resulting from the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Bohol and the armed conflict in Zamboanga.  In fact, the Philippine Country Office has coordinated 7 emergency responses since August due to an onslaught of disasters.

And now, one week after Super Typhoon Haiyan, the situation is desperately urgent.  There is insufficient food, water, shelter, and medical supplies.  In Tacloban, even children have been asked to join in on looting as people go into survival mode and the desperation increasingly compromises the safety of aid workers trying to deliver relief supplies.

On my way back to the office yesterday, I saw military vehicles on EDSA, the longest and most congested highway in Metro Manila, en route to the Manila airport.  They were moving slowly but steadily.  In my mind, this analogy describes the aid relief very well.  People are moving as fast as they can, but for those who are going on day 8 without food and water, the aid is steady, but too slow.  We are in the “Race for Survival” to get aid to victims “now now!” as exclaimed by Save the Children’s newest Country Director in the Philippines, Ned Olney.

One helplessly ironic realization for me is that while Tacloban was once a thriving port city and commercial center, money is useless there.  Shops are closed and there is nowhere to buy food or water as residents are cut-off from the outside world.  And while people on the outside are gathering canned goods, clothes, and much needed supplies, processing and shipping them to the Philippines will take precious time to reach the hands of those who need help the most.

So the best way for us to help is to answer the call of reputable international and local NGOs that are appealing for monetary donations.  With money and concentrated efforts, NGOs with the passion and urgency like Save the Children, will be able to buy the available supplies closest to the disaster zone and mobilize the relief effort that much more quickly.

The Filipino spirit is stronger than any typhoon.  But let’s show the Filipino people that we are sending our love and support.  

Here is how you can help: http://www.typhoonyolandaappeal.com/

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Children can’t wait. Please help today. (Picture supplied by Save the Children)

3 comments

  1. Vivian, we are all so relieved to hear you are doing well and are helping with the critical situation. Keep up the fantastic works….I think this trip has turned out to be Pulse Plus! Many of your GSK colleagues have been checking in with Paul and I to see how you are doing and all send their best wishes. Stay Safe! And thank you for the fantastic update.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Vivian – organisations like Save the Children do fantastic work at these times and it’s really interesting to get a glimpse of the inside story on what’s happening. Keep strong through this time and just know that so many people are thinking of you. All the best, SUe

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