This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
An historic typhoon with gusts of winds reaching 195 miles an hour battered the Philippine archipelago over the weekend. The storm destroyed entire cities, and the death toll is expected to reach into five figures. We get an update on relief efforts.
- Pat Johns Director of Staff Security, Catholic Relief Serves
- Steven Rood Country Representative, Philippines, Asia Foundation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in broadcast, over 16 years ago, a group of teenagers were given tape-recorders to document their day to day experiences. Two of them join us to discuss their lives today.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, destruction in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. It was one of the strongest storms to ever hit the country. At its peak, it sustained wind speeds of 170 miles an hour and caused waves as high as 45 feet. Now, days later, officials fear it may have killed thousands of people and international governments and aid groups are scrambling to meet the needs of those who survived, but widespread damage has complicated their efforts with much of the local infrastructure wiped out and major roads blocked by debris.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this is Pat Johns. He is currently director of staff security for Catholic Relief Services. Pat Johns has decades of experience in disaster response. Pat Johns, thank you for joining us.
MR. PAT JOHNSThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Manila is Steven Rood, the Philippines representative for the Asia Foundation. Steven Rood, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEVEN ROODThank you for having me.
NNAMDISteven, can you describe what the situation is like in the Philippines at this point? What challenges are survivors of this storm facing?
ROODWell, the most immediate challenge is, as you say, the practically complete destruction in some places of all infrastructure because of a storm surge that swept inland so that shelters, churches, schools, all government agencies and so on are wiped out in a couple of places. And so they really need aid coming in from outside and it's only within the past few hours that all the airports are available now, finally, for emergency flights to begin to bring in more and more goods.
ROODSo just, you know, the very basics, water, hygiene, shelter, food, those are all the immediate challenges that people face.
NNAMDIPat, you coordinated emergency aid in the Philippines before for several years. What do you expect responders to be facing on the ground at this time?
JOHNSWell, I think two of the biggest challenges right now are going to be logistics and communications. The cell phone towers were knocked out. There are cell phones working in Ormoc, which is on the west side of Leyte. But on the east side, which took the brunt of the typhoon, there's virtually no cell phones working at all. So our teams are going in there with satellite phones in order that they can communicate with our folks in Manila.
JOHNSAnd logistics, you know, the road networks have been devastated. They're being cleared right now by the armed forces, but it's going to be hard to get stuff in there because of all the debris that's all over the road systems, so to speak.
NNAMDIIf you have questions about the destruction in the Philippines or the aid efforts underway, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Steven, you've spent a lot of years living in the Philippines. What kind of infrastructure did areas like the city of Tacloban have in place for disasters like this and how did it hold up as the storm hit?
ROODWell, the Philippines has been rapidly, over the last few years, in response to a couple of disasters, improving its preparation. It used to be that a calamity fund was only released after a calamity, but now they're beginning to use it for preparation, for better weather forecasting and all of that worked to the degree that we knew there was likely to be a storm surge. We knew that people needed to be evacuated and yet, and yet, when a five meter wall of water comes in, there's really nothing to be done.
ROODSo that, for instance, there was several evacuations centers, which were single story or just two-story and the first story was swamped. So there still needs to be better response to these extreme events, but we must give the Philippine government credit for having upped its game considerably in the last couple of years.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us...
JOHNSYou know, I'd like to add to that. You know, in my opinion, nobody responds to disasters better than the Filipinos because they're on the front line of these things every year. They're prone to the typhoons for a good five months of the year and they also deal with the earthquakes and the volcanoes. So something always seems to be happening disaster-wise in the Philippines.
JOHNSAnd I think, through the years, they've proven that they can respond to these things in a very, very effective manner. But like Steven mentions, this was unprecedented.
NNAMDIYes. Given the force of this typhoon, is any government capable of responding effectively to a disaster like this? I mean, it's a rhetorical question, but it's...
ROODAbsolutely. I doubt it. You know, they're saying that this was three times more powerful than Katrina and you saw how difficult it was for us to respond to Katrina.
NNAMDIWe're talking, in case you're just joining us, with Pat Johns. He's currently director of staff security for Catholic Relief Services. And Steven Rood is the Philippines representative for the Asia Foundation. He joins us by phone from Manila. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. We'll go to John in Fairfax, VA. John, what's your question?
JOHNI was concerned about the use of amateur radio. It seems like everybody's talking about cell phones, but amateur radio has apparently been increasing in the U.S. Given what the guest just said about preparedness in the Pacific, are there amateur radio operators there that are functioning and available and how would they be used?
NNAMDIAre you aware of whether that's happening, Steven Rood?
ROODYes. Up until 20 years ago, amateur radio was practically the only way to communicate over long distance and so up until the mid '90s, virtually nobody had phones and it was very difficult. The trouble is, as the caller might note, that the advent of cell phones has sort of allowed people to relax and to go away from that and so those radios no longer exist or they're not kept up.
ROODSo the president has ordered, in response to this, that at least every municipality, all the 1,500 municipalities, stand up that capability.
JOHNSYeah. Yeah, the other thing I would add to what Steven just mentioned is for amateur radio, you need a power source and most of these places have no power whatsoever, which also impacts on cell phones. You got to charge your cell phone up as well so that does present a problem.
NNAMDIPat Johns, in international emergencies like this, relief workers from around the world head to the crisis zone. As someone who was stationed on the ground in the Philippines and someone who has also lead disaster response teams after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, what is it like to coordinate with all the different aid groups working on the ground?
JOHNSWell, as I mentioned before, you know, they do this very well in the Philippines. The coordination mechanisms are pretty time-tested. So the main thing for us now is to get some folks on the ground into places like Palo and Leyte and Basi and Samar and Ormoc in Leyte as well. You know, once we have people on the ground, we have some Filipinos there that are, right now, they will be complimented by a group of expats who are going in tomorrow.
JOHNSSo they need to get in there and meet with the government officials to basically work out what our game plan will be. We have a strategy that we've designed and developed, but it has to tie into the overall strategy to that therefore the need to sit down with the government officials on the ground is absolutely necessary in order to insure that it's well coordinated.
NNAMDIIn the face of this emergency, Steven Rood, one cannot help observing that while unemployment and poverty were significant problems for the Philippine government, some economists looked at the country as a promising developing economy. What do you think this disaster will mean for any economic gains that the country might have been making?
ROODWell, it's interesting that if you look at response of most countries to these kinds of disasters, they tend to return to their long term economic prospects after six to 18 months. So there will be a hit of somewhere in the order of a half percent of GDP for the nation as a whole and a significant hit in those places that are so devastated, of course, with their coconut trees down, their fishing boats destroyed and the like.
ROODSo I don't think it's going to change the overall story of the Philippines. What will make a difference, I think, both for economic growth, but also the perception of the Philippines is the extent to which the government continues to coordinate these efforts to take in the aid that comes in abroad, but also to invest their own money. They're already putting in $50 million of their own money to make sure that the rehabilitation takes place.
NNAMDIAnd Filipinos working abroad will send $26 billion home to the Philippines this years. One in 10 Filipinos already works outside the home country. A number of them are trying to send money to the Philippines even as we speak. Can we expect that number to grow following a tragedy like this, Steven Rood?
ROODDefinitely. One of the, you know, wonderful things about this Diaspora that we have is the way that their remittance response tends to overcome economic difficulty so it, in fact, goes up during economic hard times, during the financial crisis, it went up. So we can expect that to go up. Of course, it is something of a paradox that people have to go abroad to be able to find the jobs to be able to send those remittances, but that's what we have right now and they definitely respond to these issues.
NNAMDIPat Johns, the UN's food and agriculture organization says that the typhoon has destroyed the rice fields of more than 1 million farmers. What do you expect it will take to repair those fields and prepare for the next planting season?
JOHNSWell, the areas that were hit by the storm surge, they're going to need to be desalinated. The salt needs to be flushed out of the paddy fields before they can be used again. That takes time, you know. There's not short way around that. You basically have to flush the salt out of the field in order to bring it back to the way it should be.
JOHNSThe other things that they're going to need, they're going to need some seeds and fertilizers to get ready for the next planting season, which will be, you know, next spring. So that's actually part of our strategy is to be able to distribute seeds and fertilizers to the people so they can get back and, you know, get a good crop in the soil again.
NNAMDISteven Rood, meanwhile, UN climate change talks have been underway in Warsaw. The Philippine delegate there had an emotional response to the disaster that hit his country. He pleaded for the UN to take serious action to prevent the effects of climate change. Just listen to some of it.
MR. NADEREV SANOI speak for my delegation, but I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those of the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life.
MR. NADEREV SANOSuper Typhoon Haiyan, perhaps, unknown to many here, made landfall in my own family's home town. In the devastation, a staggering -- I struggle to find words even for the images that we see on the new coverage and I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses.
NNAMDIThe delegate from the Philippines at the UN conference in Warsaw. Steven Rood, it is difficult for scientist to pin this specific super typhoon to climate change, but the Philippine government has taken a strong stance on climate change up to this point, has it not?
ROODYes. The Philippines has always been very active in these issues. Has a strong thrust towards renewable energy. And as you notice that -- as you noted, the scientific evidence isn't particularly clear one way or the other for any one weather event. But overtime scientists do predict that weather will get more extreme. And certainly these kinds of events with highly-photographed widely-distributed images does change the politics of it. It does lend urgency to those who feel that they need to fight climate change to reduce it -- to put it, as the delegate said, to reduce the fact that you night have super typhoons in the future more frequently.
NNAMDIIndeed, it will take on a certain level of urgency in the UN climate change discussions taking place in Warsaw. Finally, Pat Johns, the Philippines has an unfortunate record of being hit by natural disasters, though this storm actually seems to be without precedent. How do people in the Philippines deal with the destructive force of nature generally?
JOHNSWell, you know, they are the most resilient people -- I've spend years and years overseas and I've never met a population as resilient as the Filipinos. Mark my word, you go into these areas in six months time and you will just be amazed how life has come back. They are -- it's their nature. They're very hardworking and cheerful people. They are taking a terrible hit here with this typhoon but they'll be back. And they'll be back very quickly.
NNAMDIAnd people around the world are trying to do the best they can to lend assistance to the people affected by this typhoon. Steven Rood, thank you so much for joining us.
ROODThank you for having us and having a chance to explain this.
NNAMDISteven Rood is the Philippines representative for the Asia Foundation. Pat Johns, thank you for joining us.
JOHNSThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIPat Johns is currently director of staff security for Catholic Relief Service with a lot of experience in disaster response. We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, some 16 years ago a group of teenagers were given tape recorders to document their day-to-day experiences. We'll have an update with two of the members of the group when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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