Harry Garrett is a sophomore Political Science major from Las Vegas, Nevada. He became interested in politics after competing in Policy Debate throughout high school, where he was introduced to the complexities of international and domestic politics. He recently studied at the University of Cambridge over the summer, taking a seminar on international politics with some of the brightest students and professors from around the world. He is involved in debate, Model United Nations, Vanderbilt Television, and WVRU.
Last week, Typhoon Haiyan ravaged East Asia, damaging infrastructure and displacing millions. The storm was another in an already impactful typhoon season for the region. However, the Philippines was impacted the most, with the majority of its population affected through flooding and lack of clean water. Currently, the death toll in the Philippines is 3,982, however, there are 1,602 individuals still missing.
Even more devastating for the country, has been the displacement of around four million people, more than Katrina and the 2004 tsunami put together. Many of these individuals were living in unstable, wooden housing that was destroyed under the high winds and flooding of the typhoon. Displaced populations have been forced to live under tarps issued by the government, until housing relief projects are finished in the distant future. The government has pledged to construct more permanent housing for these populations; however, the projects have been estimated to cost over $5 billion dollars, which would be a costly project for the developing economy.
In the short term, many portions of the populations, especially in rural areas, still remain without food and water. The government is trying to juggle short and long-term strategies but is having difficulty in meeting the needs of its people. The response has reflected a larger failure by the government to effectively prepare and control the aftermath from its country. The Philippine people rely significantly on aid from external countries and organizations. Over 25,000 foreign personnel and a 100 aid vessels have found their way to the country to provide relief, providing a range of vital services. This relief has been inhibited by a lack of government efficiency, mainly from failed communication systems. Commanders in the military are unable to contact their forces to organize cleanups projects throughout the country, using foot messengers to exchange messages throughout command. As the country has shifted resources over the last decade from the military, the Philippine government has been increasing its reliance on the United States, ultimately reducing the overall effectiveness of the military. The problems that have manifested over the last week are a direct byproduct of this recent political shift.
The current situation in the Philippines draws similarities to the 2004 tsunami, which devastated Asia and the world. Like aid initiatives for tsunami survivors, relief is pouring into the Philippines; however, the effectiveness of this aid will rely on the efficiency of the local and federal governments. Without accountability, successful coordination will be stumped by the misallocation of funds, and overall post disaster development will be significantly obstructed. To increase efficiency, regional bodies and grassroots initiatives could be targeted, as they tend to be the most effective after a natural disaster. In many cases, these movements or organizations aim at helping specific portions of society, and while the central government can provide fundamental services to everyone, a network of smaller bodies could extend significant aid to large amounts of the country.