Now's the time to help Pearl of Orient Seas in peril
When my Filipina wife and I first learned that one of the strongest typhoons in history, Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda), hit the Philippines our immediate concern was for the safety of our relatives there. Fortunately, they live in Bulacan Province, which is unscathed by the disaster. My wife confirmed her family’s safety on facebook. Now, the relief and rescue efforts are our deepest concern.
Needless to say, others have not been as fortunate as us. My wife has a friend whose family is located in Leyte Province, one of the worst-hit areas. She hasn’t been able to confirm their safety. Meanwhile, my Catholic church has started collecting donations for the typhoon victims. I feel that contributing is the least I can do.
Any natural disaster is tragic, but it is also an opening for another kind of tragedy: post-disaster chaos.
After the typhoon left the country in shambles, government functions came to a halt in many towns and provinces. Orphaned children have been aimlessly walking the streets for days hungry, afraid and dazed by the stench of corpses on the roadside. As conditions worsen the risk of infectious diseases spreading increases dramatically.
There is very little food and water. There are no hospitals and law enforcement in many areas. In this desperate situation, people – especially children and seniors – are losing their lives day by day. It is hell.
As of Nov. 16, the death toll was at 3,637, with 12,501 injured, 1,186 missing and 494,611 homes damaged, according to Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. But how many were killed by the typhoon itself, and how many died as a result of the post-disaster chaos? How many died of hunger, thirst, injuries or disease due to lack of food, water or medicine?
Now food and water are gradually getting to victims. However, it is a drop in the bucket. What is worse, power and communication outages are still affecting some provinces, making it difficult for people to confirm the safety of family members.
“Not knowing anything, not having any information makes me feel very nervous and anxious,” said James A. Nilo, a Yokosuka Naval Base resident who on Nov. 15 had not yet heard from family members in the affected areas. “Sometimes, I spend sleepless nights, as well.” Fortunately, he has since confirmed their safety via facebook.
While most major media reports concentrate on Tacloban City in Leyte Province, there are many small islands in the disaster-stricken areas as well. According to the Japan-Philippines NGO Network, in Bohol and Cebu where an earthquake killed or injured more than 350 people last month, there is little chance that many of those left homeless by the quake survived the typhoon.
Although the situation seems hopeless, I feel that the global community responded rather quickly to the disaster. The USS George Washington arrived in near Leyte Gulf on Nov. 14 and has been engaged in full-scale relief and rescue operations. It was followed by other rescue teams from various nations.
“Being a Filipino-American, I am proud,” Nilo told me. “I am proud of my heritage of resilience and I am proud of my country, the Unites States’, hands-on response.”
Considering areas in Japan are still recovering from the Tohoku earthquake disaster nearly three years later, the rescue operations and reconstruction for the Philippines’ Visayan Islands will take a long time. Being so far from those in need, begs the question: What can we do to help and support those who are suffering in such chaos?
“Supporting the victims by giving our prayers with actions,” said Nilo, who added he donates to the cause through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
“Giving whatever we can, especially supporting the organizations that are on the ground right away. Giving them money and making sure that moneys are being utilized on the ground, and keeping an eye on … other opportunities to help out.”
I agree. It is important that we should do whatever we can do right away, even if it is a very small gesture. We can contribute our money to reliable humanitarian organizations, we can volunteer and we can take every opportunity to encourage the victims by sending the message: “You are not alone; we are here to help with prayers – always.”
We need to make a continuous effort to support the Philippines until they fully recover – and make sure the media and other governments don’t lose interest as the topic gradually gets older.
I cannot help but pray for the victims and the region, and that the survivors will regain the lives they once had. I pray that we will once again see the beautiful landscape of the Pearl of the Orient Seas, along with the brilliant smiles of its people.