After Super Typhoon Haiyan struck, I saw several images, videos, and anecdotes that made my gut ache. People in crowded clinics waiting for medicine to arrive, others congregating around scarce water pipes filling containers for family and friends, and saddest of all, survivors mournfully searching through makeshift morgues to identify loved ones.
During a massive disaster response, news reporters always find these stories that sadden me…and frustrate me. Inevitably, journalists ask affected people why the government and aid agencies cannot coordinate the response to meet the dire needs of victims. Interviewees usually do not know why the response is slow, but they rightly assert that the problem needs to be solved. Reporters then find their way to the airport to find aid items – some of which may have helped the people they just interviewed – sitting on the tarmac. They ask airport officials and aid agencies why more goods are not being moved to the disaster area quicker. The response is that the situation is very dynamic and complex.
The picture is complete for the news articles and broadcasts about the disaster: needy residents are unable to understand why aid is slow, and officials are not able to clearly explain why.
Leaving the story at that point is what frustrates me. Having worked actively with humanitarian organizations on logistics for over ten years now, I know the good work that is done after these tragic situations to explain where and why aid was too slow. I see the passion of aid workers who are just as frustrated as the affected residents that the system does not work better. They identify issues and propose solutions. Then I see the incremental progress implemented during the next big disaster. The cluster approach1 proposed after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami has been implemented and improved over the years.
We need both narratives during a disaster – those tracking the unmet needs and those following the coordinated response efforts . There are good sources of information about how the system is working and how many people are being served during a crisis. I have listed several of my usual sources below (note that they do have a logistics angle). These sources may be a bit dry – they are aimed to disseminate facts to other responders, not stories for the public – but they provide the information for the media consumer who is left asking: what is being done for that needy survivor Anderson Cooper just interviewed?
I also want reporters to continue finding the people whose needs are not being met appropriately (as long as their planes do not block the flow of any essential commodities). Although frustrating to me in isolation, these stories identify the service gaps in order to focus the response efforts and mobilize the resources we need to find solutions.
The aid community is just as motivated by the sad stories as the public. And they are just as frustrated when the complex system of humanitarian response does not do enough. Aid workers and the concerned public need to continue following both storylines and demanding improvements.
Information Sources for Typhoon Haiyan
Philippines National Government
http://www.ndrrmc.gov.ph – the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Center (NDRRMC) leads the response efforts for the Philippine government; frequent and lengthy situation reports track the impact (with several large tables of numbers), the national emergency response management efforts, and international humanitarian assistance
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and sector clusters
http://www.unocha.org/crisis/typhoonhaiyan and http://philippines.humanitarianresponse.info – portals with links to each of the clusters where you find more details about that sector; a key document is the Typhoon Haiyan Action Plan (12 Nov 2013), which lists the strategic objectives and key projects, with their funding requirements, for over 20 organizations
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
http://www.ifrc.org/en/publications-and-reports/appeals – archive with early information bulletins; the appeal (12 Nov 2013) outlining actions planned to meet the immediate needs of the people affected and support the Philippine Red Cross in delivering humanitarian assistance; operation updates to track the progress of activities
http://reliefweb.int/disaster/tc-2013-000139-phl – an independent portal that archives documents spanning various organizations
http://logcluster.org/ops/phl13a – portal with various documents and maps describing logistics efforts; meeting minutes and situation reports offer the best overall picture of efforts to move critical supplies; the Concept of Operations outlines the coordination mechanisms (among response organizations and with government, military, etc.), information management (e.g. customs, local transporters, infrastructure status), and common services (e.g. transportation, warehousing) to fill identified gaps in logistics capacity
http://fts.unocha.org – tracks donations made toward the UN OCHA Typhoon Haiyan Action Plan; note some donors have portals with their own situation reports and assistance efforts.
1 The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners, established the cluster approach for inter-agency coordination around focus areas such as shelter, nutrition, health, logistics, etc. For more information see http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc.