October 6, 2009
Typhoons and tsunamis sent relief groups scrambling in different directions as disasters hit the Philippines and American Samoa last week. Massive flooding in both countries has displaced millions, forcing native governments to rely on ministries and relief groups to help their people. Relief groups have divided their efforts - and joined forces with some unexpected partners - to aid the nearly 4 million people affected by the crises.
Two Storms in Two Weekends in the Philippines
In the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana, which left about 300 dead in the Philippines after it hit Manila last weekend, and this weekend's Typhoon Parma causing further damage, Christian relief aid organizations are in full force, trying to help the nearly 4 million Filippino people who have been affected.
The first typhoon, Ketsana, caused massive flooding in metro Manila, the country's capitol. According to Jeff Wright, World Vision's emergency response director for Asia, the typhoon "brought one month's rain to Manila in less than seven hours. Five days after the storm, some villages remain submerged in water and are difficult to access with relief supplies." And that was before the second typhoon, Parma, struck this weekend.
Wright said a conservative estimate of the damage to infrastructure and agricultural losses is at about $100 million in United States currency. And as more evacuees reach designated shelters, the numbers of those affected continues to rise. To date, nearly 4 million people have been affected.
Relief a 'Matter of Life and Death'
"We are trying to help people in their time of suffering. Typhoon Ketsana has left a lot of people in great need, and Typhoon Parma caused damage as well. We are trying to live out our faith by helping people in their distress," said Wright. "(Our) focus now is on meeting basic human needs: shelter, food, water and safety (especially for children). Not to be over dramatic, but this is literally a matter of life-and-death for some. Initial response is about guarantying people's survival."
Food and non-food items distributed by World Vision have already reached 1,619 families or 8,095 people. World Vision's initial response is planned for three months and is expected to reach 100,000 people. World Vision also set up Child-Friendly Spaces for about 500 children. But actual need still dwarfs the available response.
"Typhoon Parma actually affected a different part of Luzon than Typhoon Ketsana, so while some people may have been twice affected, more than anything else we're seeing just a substantial increase in the overall number of people affected, who have lost everything," Wright said.
Churches in the country have been on the front lines of the disaster relief.
"Really, what happened last weekend when Typhoon Ketsana struck was the church leapt into action," said Mark Hanlon, senior vice president Compassion USA, Compassion International. "They started working with local government initiatives and interventions in order to see what they could do to supply relief activities, specifically to the children that are registered in Compassion projects and to their families. But, since the church is doing this, they are also going out into the entire community."
Compassion works with about 50,000 children in the Philippines, all through about 200 Compassion church partnerships.
"Of those 50,000 children, about 5,000 of them are in the area that has been impacted and 1,300 or 1,400 of them have been pre-acutely impacted," Hanlon said.
Relief aid efforts have included supplying those affected with clean water and blankets as well as relocating people. Many have lost their homes and some of the local church partners have lost their buildings.
Compassion International estimates show that the initial relief aid efforts will cost at least $200,000, which only covers relocation and making sure that people have food, shelter and clothing.
"I would expect that (financial) number to go up as we are provided with better information. They are still trying to assess the situation. It also depends on the impact of Typhoon Parma," Hanlon said.
Music Group Springs into Action for Native Samoa
Victims of another disaster are also gaining relief from an unorthodox source: a Christian music group.
The Katinas, a group of five Samoan brothers is organizing another initiative in the United States, a benefit concert called "Hope for Samoa." The concert will be held on Wednesday, October 7 at 7 p.m. at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.
The Katinas, who claim Samoa as their homeland, personally felt the impact from the effects of the 8.2 magnitude earthquake and corresponding tsunami waves. The 15 to 20 foot high walls of water ravaged the coastline last week and the brothers lost both friends and family in the disaster.
GMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Natalie Grant and American Idol's Melinda Doolittle will join The Katinas in their efforts, with additional artists participating as well. Radio personalities Doug and Kim, from Salem Broadcasting's "Doug and Kim in the Morning", will emcee the event.
For the brothers, organizing the benefit was just a natural response.
"We feel responsible to do it," Joe Katina said. "Being of Samoan descent and having family members that have been directly affected, it seemed like the obvious thing to do."
"It's simply a response to the greatest commandment. ‘Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.' There are still so many that don't even know about Samoa. We feel the responsibility to bring an awareness of what's happened and what is happening to our people."
The group will put the funds raised into action in November, when they plan to return to the island with volunteer construction teams and doctors.
A Greater Impact than Hurricane Katrina
When comparing the disaster like the one in the Philippines to those that occur in the United States, Hanlon said it is a tough comparison.
"When natural disasters hit us in the United States, they're difficult and I don't want to downplay that impact. But, we have a strong government and social infrastructure to help support that pretty quickly. That doesn't minimize the devastation and the impact, but it does allow us to respond and to get back on our feet, quicker.
"It seems when developing world countries get hit, a lot like the Philippines, the recovery time is long, the impact is deep and because there is just so much poverty in that area, it's hard sometimes to get a good grasp of the true impact. Like a lot of things in life, when disaster strikes, the poor seem to feel it more acutely around the world," Hanlon said.
Wright echoed that when disaster occurs abroad there is a long recovery time and rebuilding can take years. He also noted that there could be some similarities.
"Hurricane Katrina is actually a really good point of reference for emergency response, early recovery and long-term recovery. It helps people in the United States understand in a more direct way the kind of time and effort involved in recovery - those activities that can take years, long after we've stopped seeing coverage of the hurricane on the news. There are a great many parallels that can be drawn between the relief and recovery efforts in Louisiana and those that take places in other parts of the world, including the Philippines," Wright said.
Joe Katina is hopeful that those impacted would receive the help they need.
"Hopefully, the relief that is needed will continue to get to the islands. Sometimes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind' can happen. Especially, when it's a place like Samoa, a small island in the middle of nowhere. We're trusting that our people will be able to move on and heal in a healthy way. It will take some time, but it will happen," he said.