Supertyphoon Haiyan: Between Aceh and Tacloban

Supertyphoon Haiyan: Between Aceh and Tacloban

PHILIPPINES - Images of what is left of the Philippine coastal town of Tacloban after the deadly Haiyan Typhoon on Nov. 8 reminds us of the city of Banda Aceh in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami. The scale and extent of destruction looked similar, although the casualty figures are considerably less this time.

In Aceh, an estimated 170,000 people died while in the Philippines, the early figure of 10,000 in Tacloban alone may turn out to be too high, but it helped to jolt international attention and response. The Philippine government has counted less than 3,000 bodies so far, but the number is still rising.

By now, if the Aceh experience is of any help, we must look at how many people survived instead of how many people died in the typhoon and storm and who is in need of help. Now, one week later, frustration and anger is growing among the survivors because help - food, water and medicine - is not reaching them in large enough quantities and not fast enough. Many more could die of neglect unless the Philippine government and military act faster to get relief to those who need it the most.

In spite of the early warning system in place, and the joint drills on disaster relief operation held by countries and militaries in the region, no amount of preparation would have ever been enough for the force of destruction unleashed by Haiyan. Rather than finger-pointing, the Philippine government should focus on getting the disaster relief operations underway, with the help of friends and neighbours.

It's good to see Indonesia taking the initiative to be one of the first to extend help, and that one plane load of food and medicines had already left for the Philippines. Indonesia, particularly the people of Aceh, remembers well the generosity of the people around the world when it needed help the most in 2004. It is only appropriate for Indonesia to reciprocate whenever it can. And here is one such opportunity.

Indonesia should also help with the efforts to save the survivors and to rebuild and reconstruct the devastated areas, so that people can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.

Indonesia could share or use its experience in how it handled Aceh's post-tsunami, and give a list of the do's and don'ts for the Philippines in rebuilding Tacloban and other affected areas. One may recall that the disaster relief operation in Aceh in 2004 saw the largest ever peacetime military operation involving more than a dozen military from around the world.

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