Around the world, aid agencies are dispatching teams to the Philippines. A minimum of 670,000 people are displaced and 41,000 houses are damaged, with about half destroyed. And total casualty numbers continue to vary wildly, depending on different sources.
Getting a handle on a crisis on this scale is hard, but it’s made even harder when you’re working in an archipelago in a country that is relatively poor with weak infrastructure. That’s the challenge in the Philippines, where we are facing decimated services on a truly terrifying scale.
Where state resilience and infrastructure are weak, the immediate concern is recovering, maintaining and reconstructing basic water and sanitation services. A cholera outbreak is always a threat, and other diseases such as typhoid are often the first killers to emerge.
The second priority is to assess and reinforce health care systems. Many survivors would be ill and reliant on a health service that the typhoon has destroyed. So, securing and providing medication for chronic conditions such as diabetes, which can quickly become life threatening if left without attention, is crucial. We are already hearing reports of closed hospitals without power and fears of electrocution if the power is switched back on.
Reports indicate that aid agencies will be able to access a robust pharmaceuticals market based out of the capital of Manila, but the supply of medical supplies and infrastructure tools will quickly dry up.
So aid agencies will call for and coordinate international flights and shipments of the medicines and resources that are in the shortest supply or that have already run out.
Like many disasters, the event itself lasted only a few hours, but the response will take many years to achieve what it must. So this is a long-term project.