I'm always worried that after the first month or two, on a large emergency such as Typhoon Haiyan, that the attention fades because there are so many other pressing issues and disasters around the world. It's really important to remain focused on our efforts going forward.
I was in Tacloban a few weeks ago, and I was able to see the immediate impacts of a long-term partnership with the Government of the Philippines. I was able to see the impact of our initial investments over the last five years in building up their capacity to mitigate the effects of these large natural disasters. I also was able to see how we’ve been working very strongly with diaspora groups, NGOs, local groups and the private sector to build the long-term relationships that we were able to put into action on day one.
USAID had been tracking the typhoon and saw that it was becoming incredibly powerful about a week before it hit land. We prepositioned a number of disaster assistance staff in Manila from our regional office in Bangkok. Within the first day, they were in Tacloban and immediately working with our colleagues from the Department of Defense (DOD), who deserve recognition for contributing to strong interagency coordination. Without the “air bridge” support DOD provided, we would not have been able to effectively deliver all the supplies that we brought in from our bases in Dubai and Miami. Over 2,000 metric tons of critical relief supplies were brought out to the secondary and tertiary distribution sites because of the air bridge — because of the C-130s, the Ospreys, the choppers, and the operational support that the Defense Department gave to the Government of the Philippines. It was incredibly critical.
Having worked in Asia for over a decade and responded to a number of natural disasters that have happened, I have to say this really was a textbook response. We had been working for a number of years to build up the network and partnerships to have the capacity to immediately respond, no matter the size of the scope of the emergency.
We are now beginning our pivot to the early recovery stage and we will continue to focus on some critical areas. Transitional shelter, livelihoods, health, cash-for-work, microfinance, temporary schools, and the rebuilding of rural health units will be very important focus areas for us over the next three to 12 months. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in Tacloban on December 18th, he announced a terrific USAID partnership with Coca Cola and Proctor & Gamble to rebuild 2,000 sari-saris — small convenience stores that provide access to important basic supplies for people who are living on less than a dollar a day. Reestablishing sari-sari stores creates income and livelihoods for families, and it is our priority to get those up and running very quickly.
It is a heavy lift going forward. We have some critical areas to address, especially in shelter, as we saw in the Washington Post article earlier this month. We’ll be working with Leyte Province and developing a Green Plan so that we’re building back not only better, but building back safer, building back healthier. The Government of the Philippines has been building their capacity and their ability to respond quickly and effectively over the last decade. We’ll continue to work very closely with the government to further strengthen that capacity, recognizing that this is not the last of the emergencies that we’re going to be seeing.
About the Author: Greg Beck serves as Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the USAID Impact Blog. The entry excerpts from remarks made by the author on January 8, 2014, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on the U.S. response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.