Haiyan may have damaged Philippines more than expected, says UN official

Published on : Tuesday, November 19, 2013

typhoon-usagi-in-hong-kon-010United Nations officials now estimate that the devastating Typhoon Haiyan left more than 4,400 people dead and nearly two million others displaced after it swept through the Philippines earlier this month as one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

Yet, as in any tragedy, the stories of death and destruction have been matched by equally touching accounts of those compelled to help others in need. In the coming weeks, news out of the Philippines will likely change from officials counting the dead and medics healing the wounded, to everyday volunteers rebuilding homes, schools and churches in an attempt to replace a sense of normalcy swept away in the storm.

Several tour groups and volunteer-abroad organizations have already whipped up disaster response programs to help anyone with skills (or anyone with helping hands) to travel to the Philippines to aid in that process — all in an extremely controlled environment.
China-based Young Pioneer Tours typically specializes in trips to North Korea, but the company’s Travel Director Chris White said he would switch gears in December to lead a special group of volunteers to the Philippines to assist in post-Haiyan recovery. He said while the organization would prefer those with specialized skills (medical professionals, construction workers, EMTs, relief workers), all are welcome. “We haven’t turned anyone away,” White said. “Just providing an extra set of unskilled hands is incredibly valuable right now.”

The organization, whose team will pay its own way to assist in the recovery, has raised $4,000 in five days and hopes to bring that number up to at least $15,000 before Dec. 1 to purchase medical supplies, tools, equipment and food. Their goal is a simple one: work with a team in Bantayan to deliver supplies, remove debris and rebuild 10 homes.

Allowing sufficient time for emergency response teams to carry out their work is vitally important in disaster relief, experts say. Sending unskilled volunteers into an area right after a devastating storm, while seemingly helpful, can actually harm the recovery. Not only could it be a danger to the volunteers, but it could also impede the work of those specifically trained in this type of work.

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