Though locally, people were shocked beyond belief by the destruction, and understandably so, one would think Humanitarian Relief Workers, who have seen multiple disasters in their lifetime, would find the aftermath of a disaster to be somewhat routine. However, for relief workers arriving in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan, the devastation appeared anything but routine, as did the reaction to it.
Tanja Venisnik has a Masters in Law from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and Masters in Human Rights from the University of London. Prior to working on relief efforts in Tacloban in 2013, she contributed to recovery efforts after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The GoAbroad Foundation interviewed Tanja on her experiences in Tacloban just one month after Typhoon Haiyan, to explore her perception of the aftermath and response.
When you first arrived in Tacloban, what was your initial reaction to the amount of destruction?
When I first arrived to Tacloban, it looked quite apocalyptic. I was taken aback by the amount of destruction, even though I’ve seen pretty devastated places before (Haiti post 2010 quake).
Before you came, how much did you know about the Typhoon through International Media? How accurate were these reports based on what you observed when you landed?
I got most of my pre-departure info from the people on the ground, so I wasn’t following international media coverage that closely. However, my general impression is that the media reports were pretty accurate.
During your time in Tacloban, what organization’s relief efforts were most visible, active, and prominent in Tacloban?
Most visible relief organisations seemed to be various UN agencies and World Vision.
Did you ever feel that relief was being impeded in any way?
I think relief efforts were impeded mostly due to the political battle between national and local government.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in trying to help the survivors through relief and recovery?
Challenges included local government red tape, local NGO politics and lack of capacity of local NGOs (however, the latter can be explained by the fact that they were also Yolanda victims).
Also, some UN agencies and bigger NGOs were initially very dismissive of ideas (coming from small NGOs) on how to facilitate more community engagement in communications with communities as they saw it as creating more work for them (and possibly forcing them to have to respond to certain issues).
Did any progress in the months after the Typhoon surprise you?
I was surprised by how quickly the local people started repairing their homes and businesses using any available resources. This goes to show the incredible resilience of the local people. It was also great to see old and new businesses springing up soon after the storm.
What were you most disappointed to see not happening in the first few weeks after the Typhoon?
Lack of communications with communities to determine community needs and concerns, in order to inform and improve relief efforts. UNOCHA deployed CwC working group, however (at least initially), this did not produce tangible results on the ground.
In your interactions with communities, did you feel they were aware of the severity of the typhoon before it happened?
I think communities were not aware of the severity of the approaching storm. They thought they could battle it out as usual. For example, they were not aware of the possibility of a storm surge (or what that was!).
What is the number one way the response could have been better?
Response could have been better if the national government forgot about political rivalry and immediately joined forces with the local government to ensure speedy and efficient first response. Also, strict corruption monitoring on the local level could have ensured that the aid ended up in the hands of the most needy.
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