Maltese disaster relief worker CHRISTINE CASSAR speaks to Annaliza Borg about her efforts and those of Disaster Aid International in The Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan – a daunting task but one which is helping to rebuild lives following the devastation caused by the typhoon
What aid is being sent at the moment and how this is being delivered?
The first wave of aid consisted largely of food aid to answer to the immediate needs of the millions of affected people. The second wave deals with shelter needs, which are necessary as people are displaced after a disaster, have no access to latrines and other hygiene supplies, and are therefore vulnerable to the elements.
As Disaster Aid International, we are providing Home Repair Kits in the west of The Philippines – in the northeast of the island of Panay. We are procuring all the supplies in-country as this not only lowers shipping and air freight costs but also boosts the local economy.
How difficult is it to have supplies delivered there and how are you trying to reach the people who need them most?
Delivering supplies to a disaster zone is challenging. The typhoon destroyed entire roads and deposited large amounts of debris on others, which meant that clearing had to take place before any aid could get through or even before assessment teams could access some areas. In our assessments we always try to select communities that have been particularly hard hit and have not received any aid.
We are now working in the northeast of Panay, which is an area with both mountainous regions as well as a number of small islands which have been extremely badly hit. Last week we delivered 23 tonnes of aid to the island of Bayas. Because of the weight of aid, it was impossible to use barges. This meant that smaller boats had to be used to transport the wood and other supplies.
How did you happen to be in The Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan struck, and what does it feel like to be in a foreign land at such a vulnerable time?
I started volunteering for Disaster Aid UK in 2011 while I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Manchester. Disaster Aid UK forms part of Disaster Aid International that provides shelter and non-food aid, as well as water filtration systems, to displaced populations in disaster zones, including South Sudan, The Philippines and Pakistan.
I initially went to the Philippines to respond to the earthquake in Bohol. This earthquake, which measured 7.2 magnitude on the Richter scale, and originated from a previously unknown fault line so that people didn’t know they were in danger, was extremely devastating. Ninety-five per cent of the households in the area we were working in were completely destroyed. Over 350,000 people were displaced.
While we were still in the process of distributing aid to affected populations in Loon in the west of Bohol, super-typhoon Haiyan struck. This meant that a whole new area of the Philippines was now devastated by the strongest storm to ever hit the country. As we were already in-country, we decided to extend our operations to start initial assessments in the typhoon-hit areas.
The devastation caused by a typhoon is completely different from that of an earthquake. Whereas in Bohol we were dealing with a large number of concrete and brick buildings that were destroyed, the typhoon was most dangerous and devastating to those living in wooden, bamboo and nipa buildings. There was no electricity, water or phone service. Five days later there was another low-pressure system – Zoraida – which meant that those who had lost their homes in super-typhoon Haiyan were exposed to two days of rainfall.
I extended my stay in the Philippines from two weeks to six weeks because of the extent of the damage and the fact that we could start responding straight away.