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

Topics: Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines, Natural Disasters, International aid, ,

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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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    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors hang a sign as they queue up to get a chance to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors hang a sign as they queue up to get a chance to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors get some slices of orange fruit from an air force officer as they queue up to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors rush to board to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    A Filipino trooper carries a woman as they flee Typhoon Haiyan ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    A survivor passes by damaged vehicles and houses at typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors walk along debris from damaged homes at typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors walk by damages at typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors walk past damaged house at typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Wong Maye-E

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are evacuated by rescue workers from the airport in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Wally Santana

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    A young man looks through the remains of his home destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, central Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Wally Santana

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Residents start to build shelters where their homes destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, central Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Wally Santana

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Residents start to build shelters where their homes destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, central Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Aaron Favila

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    A young survivor uses the remains of some parts of their house to shield him from rain at typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Vincent Yu

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors from Tacloban, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan disembark a Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft at the Villamor Airbase, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in Manila, Philippines.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors rush to board to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Wally Santana

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Philippine military personnel try to prioritize children and women first as they wait for evacuation flights in Tacloban, central Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013.

    AP/Bullit Marquez

    Haiyan's aftermath, 5 days in

    Survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C130 military transport plane on Tuesday Nov.12, 2013,

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Lindsay Abrams
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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