10 major challenges facing the Philippines post-Haiyan

As relief efforts struggle to reach victims, it's clear that the disaster is far from over


Lindsay Abrams
November 12, 2013 3:43AM (UTC)

Days after one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded decimated the Philippines, many contend that it's still too early to quantify the damage wrought by the storm surges that saw winds in excess of 200 mph and sea levels rising as high as 13 feet. As of this posting, the official death toll had risen to 1,774, but up to 10,000 are feared dead in the city of Tacloban alone. Authorities say 9.7 million people in 41 provinces, making up about 10 percent of the country, were affected in all.

We do know for sure that the disaster is far from over -- in many ways, it's only now beginning. Amid the destruction, relief efforts were barely able to begin today, as aid organizations gather appropriate supplies and attempt to reach the storm's victims. CNN has a near-comprehensive list of groups on the ground looking for donations; all have their work cut out for them. Here are just ten of the major challenges that the Philippines must contend with, both immediately and far into the future:

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1. Millions have already gone days without food and water

The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) quantifies the sheer number of people still caught in life-and-death circumstances: over 350,000 people await supplies in 1,220 evacuation centers, while some areas remain 80 percent under water.

Amid limited food and water supplies, there are reports of people suffering from diarrhea and dehydration. According to OCHA the need for water purification tablets is particularly urgent --some, unsure if water is safe, are going ahead and drinking it anyway.

2. There's a crippling shortage of medical supplies

At least one hospital has posted a hand-written sign to its door: "No admissions. No supplies." Relief organizations are working to collect first-aid kits for the wounded, tetanus vaccines and other urgently needed supplies.

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3. Blocked roads are keeping help from arriving

Before they became strewn with rubble and debris, many of the country's roads were already considered the worst in Southeast Asia. Now, they're slowing rescue teams and preventing aid from reaching those in need. According to the Philippine interior minister, the food and medical supplies that made it to the Tacloban airport are more or less stuck there.

4. Increasing desperation is leading to mounting violence

Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippines National Red Cross, told reporters Monday morning that security is becoming a mounting concern . On Sunday, he said, a Red Cross convoy carrying food and water supplies was almost hijacked by a hungry mob. “There is very little food going in, and what food there was, was captured” by the crowd, he added.

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Shops that haven't been destroyed are now being ransacked: looters have been spotted with everything from electronics to large appliances. With residents of nearby towns raiding the city to steal supplies, officials in Tacloban begged President Aquino to declare martial law.

5. Something must be done with the bodies

Many victims have presumably washed out to sea, thus preventing an official death toll. Meanwhile, mass graves are being dug to accommodate the bodies that, according to CNN's Paula Hancocks, are "everywhere." As they decompose in the scorching sun, they pose yet another health risk to survivors.

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6. Buildings were leveled, villages were erased

"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house," U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over Tacloban. That includes evacuation centers, some which became mass graves as those who sought shelter ended up drowning inside.  Looking forward, many towns will have to be "rebuilt from scratch," reports the Guardian.

For some coastal fishing villages, on the other hand, there's nothing to see but an ominous expanse of water. As one expert put it, “The disturbing reports are the lack of reports."

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6. A prior disaster depleted the country's emergency funds

The magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the middle of the Philippines last month sucked up much of the funds set aside for relief efforts. To supplement the international aid now arriving, President Aquino declared a  “state of calamity," the first step in freeing up more government money and getting aid to people as quickly as possible.

8. Affected areas remain in the dark

There's no electricity in many areas in the storm's path, further complicating search efforts.  In some places, officials say, it could be three to four months before power is restored.

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9. Decimated crops threaten the the agriculture industry

Rice is a staple crop for the Philippines, which had been close to achieving self-sufficiency  -- now, about a quarter of the areas in which it is grown are believed to have been hit by Haiyan. Over 100,000 tons of rice has been lost so far, Quartz reports, and preliminary (likely conservative) estimates show the agriculture industry -- 11.1 percent of the country's GDP last year -- taking a $85 million hit.

10. Mental and emotional trauma from all of the above seems inevitable

“We’ve heard reports that people are walking around aimlessly, completely desperate,” Dr. Natasha Reyes, the area's emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, told the L.A. Times. “As a Filipino, I know that we’re a resilient people. We’ve been battered over and over again by natural disasters. So when I hear about people being so desperate, so stunned, so hopeless, it really tells me just how bad this is.”

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Lindsay Abrams

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International Aid Natural Disasters Philippines Typhoon Haiyan

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