Transforming Lives in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

It is a coincidence that my first day with PLAN was 7th November 2013 as Cash Transfer in Emergencies Specialist and during this time the typhoon Haiyan (locally called as Yolanda) was already in the making and rearing to make landfall. On 8November 2013 at around 4:40 AM local time, Typhoon Yolanda made landfall over Philippines in Visayas, Palawan and Cebu areas. The Typhoon was categorized as the most powerful to have ever hit the country with maximum wind speed over 300 kilometers per hour. Approximately 16 million people were affected; including 4.1 million people displaced and of this 1.7 million were children. Being a humanitarian professional with global cash transfer responsibility, I was expecting a communication from PLAN International Headquarters any moment. On 12 November I received a call to be on “standby”. Having concluded a deployment in response to cyclone Phailin in India in October 2013 with my previous employer, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, I was rearing to go for Yolanda deployment. I have always been passionate to respond and plunge into action in the humanitarian situation of “quick and dirty” phase.

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On 15 November, I was informed by Human Resource Manager, Emergencies to initiate deployment and the formal process started with Visa but I received a setback from the embassy in Philippines to New Delhi, India when they requested for further compliance as per the guidelines issued by government of Philippines for emergency response.

While, on the ground zero in Tacloban (the most impacted by typhoon), Philippines, the markets were starting to be functional and it was time to initiate planning of cash transfers. This was creating a sort of both excitement and an adrenal boost in me but I had to keep my cool and did not want to take any chances with my visa since my deployment was the priority. I learnt further from other external roster colleagues that they were also facing the same issues in deployment. To mitigate this, PLAN Philippines liasoned with ministry of external affairs in Manila and complied with the requests made and I finally reached Manila on the evening of 11 December 2013. I was immediately briefed on the situation by my supervisor, Head of Food and Nutrition Unit on the situation followed by other briefings. and on 14 December 2013 I was finally deployed in Tacloban.

My first priority was to undertake a rapid assessment of the situation and launch Cash Transfer since the affected people were in immediate need of cash injection either through unconditional or conditional cash transfer modality. On 16 December 2013, I felt on top of the world when I launched the Cash for Work in a village called Hernani, east Samar province with eminent support from my Philippine colleagues and I could see a glimpse of hope among the beneficiaries. This was like an Occupational therapy for the beneficiaries and it kept them engaged thereby allowing them to be distant from the trauma due to the impact of Yolanda on their lives. Their happiness reached its peak when they started receiving cash amounting to 7,800 pesos (200 US$) for 30 days of cash for work or a one-off payment of the same amount for the most vulnerable through unconditional cash transfer.  For me it seemed my job was done “transform sorrow faces into smile” and I cannot explain what it meant to me.

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They had the choice to spend their money based on the priorities. From one of the early post distribution survey it was observed that approximately 35% of cash was utilised for shelter followed by 30% on food, 17% on education, 12% on health and remaining 6%.

There were more than 122 international deployments from both internal and external rosters. PLAN has an established emergency roster. It is a database of pre-selected deployable internal and external candidates who have the appropriate skills and experience to support emergency preparedness and response based on specific criteria. It also stores information on these candidates. The roster is managed by the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) team supported by the Human Resources and Organizational Department of the Global Center.

I was deployed as one of the internal roster staff and several were deployed from external roster as well. I would appeal and encourage humanitarian professionals to enroll themselves with PLAN’s external and internal rosters which will thus enhance quality of PLAN’s programmes for children, improve accountability and ensure that we are better prepared for disasters. In solidarity for the people of Philippines, “we as humanitarians are always with you and every cloud has a silver lining”. 

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