Harsh Realities in Wake of Typhoon Haiyan
Image Credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

Harsh Realities in Wake of Typhoon Haiyan

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The aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest and most devastating cyclones in recorded history, has left the Philippines in a state of deep paralysis as it confronts a national calamity. Powerful winds reaching gusts of 300kph caused 16-foot waves to sweep through southern Philippine provinces on November 8, wiping out towns and leaving survivors in despair amidst flattened buildings, felled trees and corpses strewn along roadsides.

The official toll is now 3,976 dead, although that number is expected to rise. Approximately 2 million people are in need of food and have been displaced. Total damages from the disaster are estimated at more than $200 million.

Situated in a region prone to severe winds, floods and storm surges, the Philippines is no stranger to typhoons. But the overwhelming scale of destruction left behind by Haiyan has forced the nation to confront some hard truths about its shaky political and socioeconomic infrastructure.

It’s been a little over a week since the typhoon made landfall, and the international community has flooded the Philippines with millions of dollars in relief goods, humanitarian aid and logistical services. There’s some aid in Tacloban – one of the worst-hit cities and the primary focus of relief efforts – but it is a race against the clock to reach many outlying towns and smaller municipalities that have been equally devastated and are in urgent need of aid. Thousands of survivors in remote parts of Samar, Leyte and nearby provinces wait desperately for food, water and medicines, as well as body bags to collect the decomposing dead.

Manila’s overall response to the disaster has been alarmingly slow and ill-coordinated. Of course, physical barriers are everywhere. Damaged roads made inaccessible by debris hamper relief efforts and isolated towns with no water, electricity or means of communication are left to fend for themselves. Consequently, relief is not reaching those in need fast enough, and so for the survivors the task of finding food and shelter remains a constant struggle. Unverified reports of looting, murder and rape have also emerged from some parts of Tacloban as residents attempt to flee the city.

While a stunned Philippine government struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of destruction and chaos, patience is wearing thin as many begin to question its performance in addressing the needs of its people during this time of crisis. International media scrutiny has been ratcheted up after CNN remarked on the government’s slow, disorganized and inefficient relief efforts, perceived shortcomings which the Philippine government has not fully denied.

Disillusioned Filipino netizens flock to Facebook, Twitter and social news network Rappler with furious commentaries every hour, while others try to counter with reminders that the Aquino government is doing all it can given the magnitude of widespread destruction.

Yet the government’s delayed and ill-coordinated response before and after the typhoon is a symptom of a more hazardous illness, one decades in the making. The typhoon arrived just as the entire country was embroiled in one of its most shocking political scandals to date: the alleged misuse of public funds by prominent members of Congress amounting to $586 million over the past six years. These pork barrel funds were meant for local development projects such as the construction of roads, health centers, and other public works in underdeveloped areas. But the lack of proper auditing controls and regulations has cost the country billions of pesos lost in “ghost projects”: non-existent NGOs and sham public programs allowing politicians to pocket public monies under the guise of doing good.

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