‘We need to be ready to take action as soon as the alert is lifted’

A staff member of Handicap International hands out a "protection kit" in Palo, Leyte, days before typhoon Hagupit hit land. Photo: Henri Bonnin / Handicap International

A staff member of Handicap International hands out a “protection kit” in Palo, Leyte, days before typhoon Hagupit hit land. Photo: Henri Bonnin / Handicap International

Handicap International’s teams in the Philippines have been on high alert since the first warning that Typhoon Hagupit would hit the archipelago over the weekend. The association is working to ensure the most vulnerable people find safety prior to the arrival of the typhoon and is getting ready to intervene as soon as the alert is lifted.

“The island of Samar may well be the worst-hit area,” says Handicap International’s Henri Bonin who is in Tacloban City. “It is composed of rural populations, widely dispersed across the island, with a high density of housing on the coast. The typhoon may well generate waves several metres high. The inhabitants have been warned to seek shelter in the mountains.”

A number of Handicap International’s teams are already working in Tacloban where they have been implementing projects since typhoon Haiyan hit in November 2013. Since the typhoon was announced, the association has been taking action to help warn and protect the local population.

Handicap International has a team of almost 200 people working on its various projects around the Philippines. The association is making sure they are able to take shelter before the typhoon arrives. At the same time teams of volunteers have been deployed to help ensure the most vulnerable people are protected.

Visit to beneficiaries

According to Henri, Handicap International has visited its project beneficiaries to make sure they know what to do when the typhoon hits, as the most vulnerable people — such as people with disabilities, the elderly and women living alone — have more difficulty obtaining information.

Awareness-raising and inclusion teams have been checking that people with disabilities are taken on by NGOs and the local authorities in Tacloban and Palo.

Henri adds: “We have also been distributing protection kits* in the evacuation centres. These protection kits are being handed out to people who do not want to leave their homes as well. For elderly people who have not been able to leave their homes with the specific equipment they require, we have provided mattresses and commode chairs.”

Anticipating the disaster

Logistics are an important part of the preparation process. Handicap International has made several trucks available to the Tacloban city council to transport food, first-aid kits and hygiene kits etc. The association has also chartered an additional truck to transport families to the evacuation centres.

All of Handicap International’s teams are on standby to take action as soon as the typhoon has passed. In coordination with the local authorities and other humanitarian actors, Handicap International has pre-positioned equipment for the clean-up phase (trucks and diggers). The priority after any typhoon is to re-open the roads to provide access to the worst-affected areas.

Two boats have also been mobilised in case access by land becomes impossible.

Handicap International is working in coordination with Doctors Without Borders, which has a surgical team on standby, to treat the injured. A well-equipped team of physiotherapists is also ready to provide the rehabilitation care required in the post-operative recovery phase.

“Another team of nurses is ready to visit people with minor injuries,” says Henri. “Their mission will be to treat minor wounds to avoid infections. Last year, after Haiyan, large numbers of people had to be amputated due to infected wounds. When the majority of health structures are either saturated or inaccessible, these mobile teams can make a real difference.”

As soon as the alert is lifted, the evaluation teams will move out from Tacloban and Manila towards the affected areas (most likely the north of Samar and Bicol) to assess the extent of the damage.

* The protection kits contain a solar-powered torch, a radio, a whistle, and a plastic pouch (for important documents), as well as an information leaflet.