Taiwan has to prepare for the sparrow's return

TAIPEI - Typhoon Haiyan, which means "sea sparrow" in Chinese, was one of the most lethal storms in history. It killed thousands and displaced many more in the Philippines. Some media outlets say 9.5 million are displaced, while the UN put the number at 800,000 on Tuesday.

Those who survived barely have time to mourn their dead as they find themselves facing an almost post-apocalyptic world. Towns are wiped entirely out, roads are gone, power is out and food and water are scant. Food-salvaging survivors were soon compared to zombies by first responders and some international media outlets.

Taiwan's quick response to the tragedy - US$200,000 (S$250,000) in relief donations and C-130 aircraft-loads of materials to the southern neighbour - drew the sad but inevitable brouhaha on whether (or to what extent) Taiwan should help the Philippines following the recent diplomatic row that ensued after a local fisherman was fatally shot by the Philippine Coast Guard. Some local netizens are refusing to help, some are even calling for a boycott of relief to the Philippines. It is, however, a comfort that many (including the daughter of the Taiwanese fishing boat skipper killed in the incident) recognise the simple truth that we are human beings before we are agents of nation-states.

On the other hand, the media focus on the relatively low amount of Taiwan's first batch of donations for the tragedy (as compared to NT$6.84 billion (S$290 million) given in total to Japan for the 2011 earthquake relief) is also a non-issue. What the survivors need the most for now is not money but food, water, medicine and the infrastructure to deliver these materials to them.

Taiwan should do its best to help. The nation should stand up for those in need just as it has stood up for its rights and dignity.