On a map of the world you will see to the East a shattered land mass, smashed into over 7,000 pieces and afloat on the sea just below China and to the right of Vietnam. It is the Philippines. The United Kingdom looks sturdy in comparison but even so it was not hard to imagine the shocking force of Super Typhoon Haiyan as it bludgeoned its way over the archipelago on the morning of Friday 8 November 2013.
This bruiser, Yolanda to the locals, hit the islands with sustained winds of 235km an hour and gusts of 275km an hour. Its fury was almost unprecedented – but not quite, not on the Philippines’ scale of climatic abuse. Since 1970 there have been, according to some experts, at least six other stronger storms that have smashed over the same islands and behind all these winds have come surging, swamping seas.
The scale and frequency of the ‘natural disasters’ that hit the Philippines is mind-shaking. Perhaps that is why Filipinos appear to be capable of such exemplary resilience. Their ability to stagger upright again and again is profound but if the country is to keep its feet the children must be able to progress – they must be given the chance to become the engineers, the planners, the innovators who could help to keep their people safe. For this they need schools and teachers, together with some means of keeping access to learning open between disasters.
Aid agencies from around the world are out there in numbers but the odds against them are significant.
Here are a few facts about these storm shredded islands. Much of the information that follows has been gleaned from the reports from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
- 14.9 million people have been affected by Haiyan (just 1 million less than the entire population of Malawi) .
- 4.12 million have been displaced (New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million).
- 5,600 have been reported dead (the number on board a Disney cruise liner).
- 1,761 are still missing (the number of students in a large European secondary school).
- 5 million children at least are in need of shelter, protection and psycho-social support (Scotland has a population of 5.3 million).
- 7,000 schools, of those that have been assessed, have been closed, destroyed or damaged (the same as the total number of primary and secondary faith schools in England.)
- 865 births a day in the affected areas (the number of births in the UK each day is over 2,200).
- 800,000 elderly at risk of acute malnutrition (the population of Marseille in France).
- 587,598 homes have been completely destroyed. (Glasgow has just over 300,000 ‘dwellings’)
- 35,795 emergency shelters have been provided.
- 478,562 households still need help.
- 70% of those in the worst hit areas have no access to telecommunication.
- 90% have no electricity.
- 50% cannot even hear a radio.
On top of all the above the mobile telephone network collapsed. Prior to the storm this country of over 105 million people was home to 103 million mobile phones which between them sent 2 billion SMS messages per day. The silence alone must have been shocking.
It’s not clear how long it will take to ‘fix the Philippines’ or even whether it can be done before the next storm arrives but perhaps that’s not the point – it’s hope we have to worry about. Filipinos are adept at keeping this little flame alive but this time it is so drenched and wind-damaged all of us need to lend a hand.
Please, if you can spare it, text a tenner for Christmas to one of the addresses below.