Digital initiative aids relief in Philippines

Credit WikiCommons

Credit WikiCommons

THE head of U.N, Valerie Amos toured the devastated coastal town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar on Tuesday.  “We’ve had people here for a couple of days and I hope that by tomorrow we will be reaching a number of those coastal communities where they still have their boats but we haven’t been able to get to them with food so we urgently want to get to them with food,” Amos told Reuters.

About 11 million people have been affected by typhoon Haiyan, according to UN estimates and relief aid has undoubtedly been challenged by the logistics of the Philippines. Thousands of social media images have been tagged, while citizen map-makers- dubbed “digital humitarians”- have traced roads and rated typhoon damage. The Humanitarian OpenSteetMap Team (HOT) was activated to provide geographic base data in areas affected by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, “currently we are supporting the active OpenStreetMap Philippines community. During the first week of our intervention, more than 1,000 volunteers from 82 countries worked remotely to update OpenStreetMap map”.  HOT has been working closely with the Digital Humanitarian Network(DHN), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the American Red Cross (ARC) to assist with mapping in order to determine the current aid requirements in remote areas.

Navy helicopters have been mobbed by hungry villagers, as they deliver desperately needed aid. The country is still struggling to get aid to devastated areas due to the extent of the destruction. Four million people have been left displaced and health experts have warned the worst affected areas are entering a peak danger period for the spread of infectious diseases. Online mapping has become a crucial guide in disaster relief operations in the Philippines. It has emerged as a key tool in aid distribution across the coastal villages and remote islands that remain neglected wastelands, 11 days after the typhoon hit.

A spokesperson for the Irish Red Cross, Anne-Marie O’Carroll, confirmed “While we recognise that thousands of people are in urgent need of food, water and shelter, there are considerable logistical difficulties on the ground in Visayas that are making aid delivery extremely challenging. Initially, dispatch of preparedness stocks to the affected areas was delayed due to cancelled flights and disrupted sea travel. Deployment is now proceeding as weather conditions have improved and both air and sea travel to the affected areas have resumed, although logistics remain challenging due to congestion and high demand. Red Cross teams are focused on reaching all of the worst affected areas in Visayas”.  

The Philippines will also divide up the typhoon-ravaged central Visayas islands between countries to maximise relief efforts, a senior officer has said.

Typhoon Haiyan was the most powerful typhoon in recorded history, the cost of rebuilding houses, schools, roads and bridges in typhoon-devastated central Philippines could reach 250 billion pesos ($5.8 billion).

Lilah Gafaar

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