Since forecasters began tracking Typhoon Hagupit, known locally as Ruby, Handicap International has been taking action to help warn and protect the local population. A number of Handicap International’s teams are already working in Tacloban where they have been implementing projects since Typhoon Haiyan hit in November 2013.
"We are preparing for every eventuality," explains Henri Bonin, Handicap International's emergency project manager for specific needs, currently in Tacloban, Philippines. "The island of Samar may well be the worst-hit area. It is composed of rural populations, widely dispersed across the island, with a high density of housing on the coast. The typhoon may well generate waves several feet high. The inhabitants have been warned to seek shelter in the mountains.
"Last year, many of the evacuation centers such as gymnasiums and schools had their roofs blown off due to the high winds. They have not yet all been repaired, which means there is a lack of capacity. Some of the city’s inhabitants have already left the area to take shelter in less exposed regions. The reflex is to move inland, away from the coast."
The memories of Haiyan are still extremely vivid: "The Filipinos are calm, although there are some signs of stress. They are getting ready to face the typhoon, although on Friday there were still no signs of the storm."
Getting the word out
Handicap International has a team of almost 200 people working on its various projects around the Philippines. The association is making sure they are able to take shelter before the typhoon arrives. At the same time teams of volunteers have been deployed to help ensure the most vulnerable people are protected.
"We have visited our shelters and economic inclusion project beneficiaries to make sure they know what to do when the typhoon hits, as the most vulnerable people--people with disabilities, older people and women on their own--have more difficulty obtaining information," Bonin explains. "For the last two days, three awareness-raising and inclusion teams have been checking that people with disabilities are taken on by NGOs and the local authorities in Tacloban and Palo. We have also been distributing protection kits in the evacuation centers. These protection kits are also being handed out to people who do not want to leave their homes. For elderly people who have not been able to leave their homes with the specific equipment they require, we have provided mattresses and (toilet) chairs."
The protection kits contain a solar-powered torch, a radio, a whistle, a plastic pouch to keep important documents dry, as well as an information leaflet.
Logistics are an important part of the preparation process. Handicap International has made several trucks available to the Tacloban city council to transport food, first-aid kits and hygiene kits etc. The association has chartered an additional truck to transport families to the evacuation centers.
Anticipating the disaster
Handicap International’s entire staff is on standby to take action as soon as the typhoon has passed. In coordination with the local authorities and other humanitarian actors, Handicap International has pre-positioned equipment for the clean-up phase (trucks and diggers). One priority after any typhoon is to re-open the roads to provide access to the worst-affected areas.
Two boats have also been mobilized in case land access becomes impossible. Handicap International is working in coordination with Doctors Without Borders, which has a surgical team on standby to treat the injured. A team of physiotherapists is ready to provide the rehabilitation care required in the post-operative recovery phase. They have access to a range of specialist equipment (bandages, orthoses, technical aids etc.).
"Another team of nurses is ready to visit people with minor injuries," Bonin says. "Their mission will be to treat minor wounds to avoid infections. Last year, after Haiyan, large numbers of people had to be amputated due to infected wounds. When the majority of health structures are either saturated or inaccessible, these mobile teams can make a real difference."
Click here to read Handicap International's Situation Report on the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan.
Mica Bevington | [email protected] | 1 (202) 290 9264