Philippines typhoon ‘major setback’ for disaster preparation, says U.N.

Forensic experts work on a mass grave with more than 700 bodies of victims of Typhoon Haiyan just outside Tacloban. (Reuters)

The fallout from the super typhoon that hit the Philippines marks a “major setback” in how the world deals with disasters, according to a senior official at the United Nations.

Typhoon Haiyan killed approximately 4,000 people, and left millions displaced, prompting more than $1 billion in international aid pledges.

The disaster illustrates that the level of preparedness and ability to save lives in the wake of such events is not as high as was thought, a U.N. expert said.

“It is a major setback and it is a major setback for the Philippines,” Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, told Al Arabiya News.

“Everyone misjudged very harshly because of the sense of urgency,” Wahlström said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting in Abu Dhabi.

“[The city of] Tacloban is a very dramatic and tragic example of where clearly people did not evacuate quickly enough... The quality of housing could not withstand even a smaller typhoon. That’s why you have this enormous destruction.”

There had been some progress in preventing the loss of life in cyclone storms and high winds – but the Philippines disaster marks a setback in this trend, Wahlström said. Providing public education, proper evacuation centres and improving public education are all key to improving disaster responses, she added.

It emerged today that the Philippines has received loan pledges totaling $1 billion to help rebuild areas hit by the typhoon Haiyan.

The World Bank said its $500 million pledge was “being finalized to support reconstruction” following the devastating storm, AFP reported. That loan matches another previously announced from the Asian Development Bank.

Wahlström said there was a “reasonable” amount of international aid pledged to the Philippines, but added that the “economic losses will be enormous”.

Arancha González, the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, said that – after the relief effort – a medium-term priority will be to help the local economy recover.

The ITC is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations that works to help developing countries become more competitive in global markets.

The organization will help efforts to “rebuild the resilience of the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector, a lot of which has been damaged or seriously affected by the typhoon,” González said.

Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, said last week that the relief efforts to the Philippines had been slow.

“I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly,” Amos said, according to The Guardian.

González said that in such scenarios aid cannot arrive soon enough. “If you find yourself in the situation that millions of Filipinos find themselves in – with no water, shelter or food – then everything is too slow,” González said.
 

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