FIELD VISIT: USAID’s response to Super Typhoon Rai
In December 2021, Super Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines, affecting nearly 12 million people. USAID and our partners responded by providing logistics, shelter and food support as well as other emergency relief supplies. Joe Curry, Regional Advisor for the Pacific with USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, takes us on his recent trip to the affected areas to get an update on how our programs are saving lives.
As part of my job as Regional Humanitarian Advisor, I recently traveled to areas heavily affected by Super Typhoon Rai, known by locals as Typhoon Odette, to ensure USAID assistance was reaching the people who need it most. We visited dozens of affected cities and towns and saw people trying to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We saw homes that were completely destroyed, roadways that were lined with debris, and muddy fields that should have been sprouting crops.
Our take away from the visit: Our aid is helping and the communities are grateful and beginning to rebuild, but almost everyone still needs additional assistance to recover and be stronger for the next disaster.
The typhoon reached the Philippines on December 16, bringing heavy rains and winds of up to 150 miles per hour. The damage was devastating: Over 2.1 million houses damaged or destroyed. More than 3.9 million people displaced. Countless others were without food, shelter, water, and other essentials. Power and telecommunications systems were so heavily damaged, it was nearly impossible for families to communicate and for relief actors to coordinate assistance on the ground.
The international community responded. USAID began assessing humanitarian needs and provided $21.2 million to partner organizations to transport donated assistance and provide food, shelter materials, safe water, and other essential items.
In Dinagat Islands Province, where more than 120,000 people live, most houses, health facilities, and other buildings and roads were heavily damaged, and residents were still without power. Downed trees and other debris lined island coasts and neighborhood streets, with emergency crews working to restore essential services.
Just hours after Rai struck, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a long-time USAID partner in the Philippines, began to distribute thousands of USAID-provided plastic sheets to help families reinforce their homes against further rains as repair efforts got underway. We are also working with IOM to rebuild resilient housing for displaced families and support government shelter assistance efforts countrywide.
I met with several families for whom IOM had helped construct new houses. Each expressed their immense gratitude for their new home and sense of security. However, shelter remains the top priority for many people we spoke with, and our work is still in progress as we continue to work with partners like IOM to help people begin to rebuild their communities.
In Dinagat, Surigao city, and Siargao island, where Rai made initial landfall, I visited the logistics hubs and mobile storage units established by the UN World Food Program (WFP) immediately following the typhoon’s landfall. These hubs were set up to quickly move food and other essential items to affected areas. USAID funds WFP to prepare emergency telecommunications and logistics equipment and systems to enhance emergency response efforts during disasters, and the payoff for that investment has been clear during the Rai response.
At each WFP logistics hub, we saw family food packs and other items organized and piled high, being moved out the door on WFP vehicles for delivery to those in need. Since mid-December, WFP had transported more than 550 truckloads of emergency supplies, including over 612,000 family food packs, from these hubs to affected areas at the time of our visit.
While on Siargao, we also met with affected families in Pilar, a municipality on the eastern coast of the island. Rai had leveled more than half the houses in the area, and nearly all families had lost the ability to make an income given damage to coconut trees and fisheries. With USAID support, WFP was distributing sacks of rice to households to make sure they had enough to eat as they got back on their feet. Simultaneously, IOM was handing out hygiene kits to try to keep people healthy and shelter repair kits to help families rebuild their houses.
Despite the widespread devastation these families have faced in recent months, everyone I spoke with held on to their sense of hope and optimism that things would get better. We at USAID remain committed to helping communities in the Philippines to not only survive, but also to rebuild their lives following Rai and other natural disasters that may arise.