(Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
As the death toll in the Philippines reaches over 3,600 from last week's devastating Typhoon Haiyan, Christian aid organizations continue to work endless hours delivering necessary supplies, such as food, water, and medicine to victims, 900,000 of whom have been displaced by the natural disaster. Christian relief agencies such as Integral Alliance and Food for the Hungry have told The Christian Post that while they're offering immediate assistance to those in need, they're also preparing for what is expected to be a long and arduous reconstruction period.
On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, struck the island country in Southeast Asia with unprecendented strength and scope, flattening entire towns in its path, hitting the Eastern Visayas region, covering the islands of Leyte and Samar, the hardest. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the latest data includes 3,621 confirmed deaths, 1,140 missing and 12,166 injured. Additionally, several roads and bridges have been completely swept away, forcing some victims to travel hours by foot just to reach safe drinking water. Media reports indicate some survivors are drinking coconut water to stay alive, and experts have estimated the damage cost to be around $15 billion.
Integral Alliance, an international network of 19 Christian relief organizations and an affiliate of the World Evangelical Alliance, has launched a joint disaster response with 18 of its members, working either directly on-ground in the Philippines or through fundraising efforts in other parts of the world. Fiona Boshoff, International Director of Integral Alliance, told The Christian Post that right now the most immediate needs of Typhoon Haiyan victims are "water, food, medicine and shelter."
"Our members are responding to the needs they have found, and co-ordinating with the government and other agencies, as well as with local NGOs and church and ministry networks wherever possible to bring a holistic response to those in need," Boshoff told CP, adding that the alliance's members "are also working with Bishop Efraim Tendero from the Philippine Evangelical Council of Churches to ensure that we support and compliment the work that local Christian groups and NGOs are doing."
Boshoff went on to name two Christian relief organizations that are a part of its alliance and currently working at the disaster sites in the Philippines: Food for the Hungry and Medair, both Christian relief organizations specializing in international aid. Food for the Hungry has reportedly dispersed teams in several parts of the country, including Northern Samar and Eastern Samar. The teams are currently working in Eastern Samar to secure non-food items and food kits supplied from local markets to 1,000 families, as the local government will run out of supplies within the next few days.
Medair members have dispatched teams to the country's islands, including Leyte and Cebu, to assess the damage, determining that in the next few days they will begin distributing shelter items, such as blankets and bedding, non-food safety items such as hygiene kits and water storage containers to keep water clean, and food items, such as rice and water.
Boshoff told CP of the eyewitness accounts of the massive exodus of Filipinos fleeing Tacloban, one of the cities hit hardest by the Typhoon. "We have heard stories of an exodus of people leaving Tacloban city to find out what has happened to their families and home villages following the storm. There is no transport, so professionals and students alike are walking 12 hours to reach Eastern Samar," Boshoff told CP.
On their way they met families begging for food at the sides of the roads. "I have heard about families having to drink salt water because they cannot find any fresh water, and parents eating coconut flesh and saving any rice they are given for their children," she added.
The Christian Post also spoke with one of Integral Alliance's affiliated agencies, Food for the Hungry, which told CP that it has a permanent staff of 30 in the Philippines, an aspect of their organization that proved to be immensely helpful in quickly responding to the natural disaster.
The 30-person staff "already had in place many of the things needed for a response. They are Filipino, so they speak the language, know the culture, they are able to get around and access partnerships that can actually move very quickly," Marty Martin, chief operating officer at Food for the Hungry, told The Christian Post via telephone on Friday. Once the relief organization established that its staff members, working with sponsored children in the country, were safe, it "began working alongside government agencies, churches and schools working to distributing food and getting access to shelter as well as sleeping materials, water, and medical supplies."
Martin told CP that not only is food and shelter an immediate concern of the relief effort, but also security has become an issue as more and more families continue to go without food and water. "It's not just bad guys that are desperate; it's a growing population that is desperate," Martin said.
In addition, Marin says one of the most long-lasting effects of the destruction will be rebuilding the infrastructure, much of which was destroyed by sustained winds reaching up to 195 mph and gusts reaching 235 mph, as well as massive waves. The Red Cross told CNN that 90 percent of the infrastructure in the Samar region of the country was destroyed by the Typhoon.
"The building of the infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and schools, will be more difficult. For the children this seriously interrupts their learning, and education is one of the keys for countries rising out of poverty. The rebuilding of the infrastructure is going to take the longest and is very significant. The challenge there is it's not something that individual families or communities can do it; has to be done at a larger level, so both the physical infrastructure and the social infrastructure must be rebuilt," Martin said.
Martin added to CP that for the long haul, the reconstruction process will take a very long time because it depends on a lot of factors, including government response. In addition to providing immediate needs, such as food and shelter, organizations like Food for the Hungry work to make resources available to assist in the long-term rebuilding.
"Often what happens is the interest lasts only until the next natural disaster," Martin told CP. "For the long haul, that really is the major work to be done. It's a great opportunity for the gospel. When people are most profoundly aware of their physical needs it translates immediately to sensitivity to their spiritual needs. One compliments the other and both are necessary," Martin said.
Boshoff of Integral Alliance added to CP that her organization and its affiliates encourage all Americans to continue their commitment to giving and praying in this time of need. "We have seen the generosity of the American people in the past, and ask you to continue to be generous in your praying and your giving," Boshoff said.
"Can we even imagine what it must be like to have survived this Typhoon being left with nothing, not even water or food? In that position, how wonderful it would be to know that people the other side of the world care enough to pray and give towards supporting me? 'When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me,'" she added.