Digging a little deeper

It’s known most of the world over as ‘Haiyan,’ but locals refer to the record-breaking typhoon that hit the Philippines earlier this month as ‘Yolanda.’

It’s a woman’s name, explains Vernon Anongos, a Filipino-Canadian who lives in Balmertown and works at Goldcorp. He and a couple of his fellow Filipino friends laugh a little – sheepishly – as I’m sure they anticipate what he’s about to say.

Like storms, “women are unpredictable.”

But they tell me that – jokes aside – their country is rocked by so many typhoons a year, the national weather agency names them using the letters of the alphabet, starting with ‘A’ each year. The number is so high for 2013, they’ve already gone through nearly the entire alphabet.

But records indicate Haiyan is the worst typhoon in modern history. The 310km/hr winds created an “unstoppable mass of water” that reached up to five metres at times and essentially flattened the city of Tacloban and surrounding areas, on the east coast of the country.

The three men are from a different region in the North and, as far as they know from visits with friends as well as Facebook messages and phone calls back and forth, nobody in the Filipino community here has immediate family that’s been directly affected, though some do have cousins or other distant relatives who have lost everything.

Vernon says he relates somewhat to what people in his home country have been going through the past three weeks. Back in 1990, while he was studying there, the Philippines was struck by a massive earthquake. He remembers lining up for about six hours at a relief station, waiting for a bag of rice and a few cans of sardines, only to discover they had run out by the time he had made it to the front of the line.

That’s one of the worst parts, they all say. People are starving and are without water. But it’s not because others aren’t trying to help. Redel explains that from the outside it may seem that both foreign and domestic aid took a while to start flowing into the country but he says a lot of media fail to explain what’s really going on behind the scenes.

He points to Anderson Cooper’s recent coverage of the crisis with CNN, which got him in hot water with some viewers who said his reporting was too shallow.

“It goes deeper than that, you know…understanding the culture,” says Redel. “From my point of view, passing judgment should not be that swift or the generalizations should not be that sweeping.”

Redel says in order to understand the aftermath of the disaster and how it’s played out up until now, understanding the diversity of the Filipino terrain is key. There are highlands, lowlands, prairies, mountains and a number of small isolated islands – and the combination certainly hinders how aid is received and when. The airport in Tacloban was also nearly leveled in the storm surge. Larger planes have to land on bigger islands, then relief supplies are moved by ferry or boats.

“We understand (Anderson Cooper). I know where he’s coming from. Seeing that is sad. People are starving. People are dying. It’s unnecessary for people to die after it’s already happened, but they do….”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Philippines lately – what it must be like to lose members of your own family, as well as everything you’ve built, so tragically and in a matter of minutes. I’ve been thinking about how quickly emergency personnel, government workers, aid agencies, military and others are criticized by people across the globe who say they’re inefficient or too slow. After I spoke with Redel, Vernon and Nadie, I’ve realized the importance of seeking coverage that details not only what is happening, but why. And, above all, I’ve realized that no two crises are the same. Typhoon Haiyan is not Fukushima and Fukushima was not Hurricane Katrina. All disasters are different beasts.

I think if we want to have a better understanding of what’s happening in the Philippines, it’ll mean digging a little deeper.

Lindsay Briscoe

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