8 November 2013 | by Emma Wigley
Lying in my cosy London bed this morning, and listening to news reports of super typhoon Haiyan - which smashed into the Philippines in the early hours.
It had 12 million people in its immediate path - I was instantly taken back to August last year when I was caught up in monsoon flooding in the capital Manila.
Conditions in evacuation centres
I could immediately visualise the scenes unfolding in the affected regions, where more than 150,000 people have been evacuated, and early reports suggest the damage is massive.
Public buildings come into their own as evacuation centres at such times. For some reason it was the basketball courts that I particularly recall - damp, overcrowded places with little sanitation where people rely on the local authorities for food.
Most evacuees will be exhausted. Many will have been up all night trying to move their livestock and valuables to safer ground, and making last desperate efforts to protect their property not just from the storm, but from potential looting too.
The atmosphere in the centres will be stultifying. Once in a place of safety, there is little to do but fret about what is going on outside, or simply succumb to extreme boredom. There is little else to do.
An area prone to natural disasters
Many Filipinos are no stranger to devastation. Poorer communities in particular are regularly forced to rebuild their lives. The sad fact is that the archipelago on which they live is particularly prone to an array of natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanoes, and typhoons.
Although this latest is predicted to have been the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history, many of the slum dwellers I met, forced because of poverty to set up their flimsy make-shift homes on the banks Metro Manila’s vast river systems, regularly flee their home during typhoon season (May through to October).
This time, on the Island of Bohol, which lay directly in the typhoon’s path, many inhabitants were already living under canvas following an earthquake three weeks ago that killed nearly 200 people, and damaged houses and infrastructure.
Thankfully the country is well prepared for disasters and emergencies as a result of extensive training and support from the government, scientific institutions and local NGOs including Christian Aid's partners.
As a result, many lives will doubtless be saved. However it is the aftermath, once the floods recede and the typhoon and media move on, that is so costly to the people left behind.
Back in 2012, once the rains had subsided and communities returned to what was left of their homes, I was humbled by the resilience that I witnessed.
In the clean-up operation, people salvaged sodden materials from the street to rebuild and in the slum areas I watched as people methodically pulled apart soaked electrical items - such as radios - drying individual components in the sun, before carefully putting them all back together again. Wet clothes hung from every corner and children played together in the mud.
In other words, the people are strong, but that is not to suggest that the situation isn't devastating.
Lives have been destroyed. To some extent, people are used to it. But it’s no way to live and there is no doubt, over time, that this constant battering takes its toll.
A slow recovery process
Some areas will return to normal fairly quickly, but for others the process will take literally years. That had been the fate of some of the families I visited who were still in evacuation centres years after the disaster that displaced them.
This is what worries me most. In a couple of days when the dramatic pictures have faded from our TV screens and we’ve all moved on to other news, hundreds of thousands of poor Filipinos squatting in miserable evacuation centres will continue the struggle to survive - but who will care?
I am proud to work for Christian Aid, whose disaster resilience work, partly funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development, will help make a real difference.
Our partner organisations in the Philippines work year-round with vulnerable communities, encouraging emergency preparedness and providing response training.
They took part in the evacuation effort coordinated by the UN and government organisations, helping activate disaster early-warning systems and move some of those involved in the mass evacuation in 22 provinces.
In the days ahead, they will be out doing what they can to alleviate immediate need. Early reports suggest that the precautions taken mean that this time round the death toll may be much lower than the typhoons in 2011 and 2012, which killed more 1,200 on each occasion.
If that is the case, my one hope is that the good news will not blind the world at large to the enormous level of need that will still remain.
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