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Tacloban resident’s first-hand experience of surviving Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) – Civil Order Collapses Into Chaos FAST

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  • Fri, Dec 20, 2013 - 03:16am



    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

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    Putting things in perspective (by an aid worker)

I'd like to add to this story. Because we often only get the extreme and negative stories, and I think we have to put these in perspective.

I don't know if the story is true or not, it could be, but it doesn't reflect what I have seen.

I have worked 10 years for Doctors Without Borders. I did many 'missions' in disaster affected communities: tropical cyclone, flooding, earthquake, landslide, cholera epidemics, displacement caused by conflict. I have worked in Africa, Asia and Central America and what I saw almost everywhere is that in time of need there was actually a lot of solidarity in affected communities, a tremendous ingenuity, at times extraordinary leaders came forward, there was often an amazing (and at times surprising) generosity from persons. In Salvador in the earthquake of February 2001 it was difficult to reach health centres because so many people came in with their cars, parked on the side of the roads in the affected communities and started distributing soup and food. I have never seen a fall into violence, often to the contrary, In Somalia during floodings in 2006 people were displaced and living in dire conditions, but everything was calm (in the area where we were). The strength of people and communities affected were often surprising (I'll never forget a group of 7 Cuban doctors (again in El Salvador) whose hospital was severely affected by the earthquake, and while most of the normal staff were not there as they attended their loved ones, and trying to set up shelters, the Cubans had fixed the electricty in the hospital with the help of a generator, the water supply was kind of fixed, sanitation was working, they attended the wounded and the sick, helped people and neighbours (almost everything was flattened around the hospital), they had been at it for nearly 3 days with hardly any sleep or food, and they were joking and having the time of their life, a bit aided by a bottle of 'ron' (rum) that had survived the earthquake and that was passed around while they were trying to set up a wooden shelter…

It is also recognised in our sector that it is rare that disasters 'bring out the worst in people', see under http://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/ems/myths/en/

Does it never happen? I'm sure it does, if needs are huge, and have been for too long. If the difference between rich and poor (which often translates into the ones coping, and the ones not coping) are large and visible, if there has been animosity between groups in the past, if there are groups external to a community that enter (or there is no social cohesion in the community) if there is little perspective for improvement, if the wrong people are able to access weapons, if clans form, than you enter red zone…

I have seen enough trouble to not have a high opinion of humanity as a whole (and politicians (and administrators) in particular), but I have more often been surprised by strength, generosity, ingenuity, pride, and at times even good humour of people who have gone through very traumatic situations and were living in appalling conditions than the opposite. Disasters sometimes will bring out the worst in persons, but also (and from what I have seen) often the best… And I owe it to the people who showed this to try to put these kind of negative stories in perspective…


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