Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the central Philippines on 8 November 2013 and caused a disaster of a scale unprecedented. Whole communities were flattened, most of the outlying islands were isolated from aid in the early weeks, while a tsunami-like storm surge claimed thousands of lives. Some 16 million people lost either their homes or livelihoods, and more than 6,200 people were killed. In response, MSF launched one of its largest emergency interventions for a natural disaster in 2013.
The wrath of Haiyan
The coastal areas south of Tacloban were totally flooded by the storm surge, which was over 10 meters high and left behind massive devastation. Many areas were inaccessible, power and communications were cut off, and fuel was in short supply. Partially damaged schools, stadiums and churches were turned into evacuation centres, where survivors crammed together waiting for help to come.
© Yann Libessart
Early weeks of the disaster
Most of the local health facilities were damaged or destroyed. Medicines, supplies and equipment were washed away or quickly depleted in the early days. MSF rapidly scaled up the provision of medical services to restore the capacity of the local health system, in collaboration with the local authorities.
Elsa Ragasa, an MSF doctor from the Philippines, vaccinates a child against tetanus at Guiuan’s Rural Health Unit. © Francois Dumont
Setting up healthcare facilities
The MSF logistics team quickly erected temporary healthcare structures, such as a tented hospital in Guiuan and an inflatable hospital in Tacloban, and cleaned up and repaired surviving facilities in the affected areas.
Romy was the first baby born in MSF’s inflatable hospital in Tacloban, the epicenter of the disaster. © Yann Libessart
Reaching isolated communities
MSF mobile teams reached 133 locations within the first three months, providing primary healthcare services and referrals for further care.
The mobile team consisting of a medical doctor, nurses, a psychologist and a logistician travelled by boat to remote coastal villages which could not be reached by road and had yet to receive any medical and humanitarian aid. © Florian Lems
Distributing shelters and reconstruction kits
In the first two weeks of the disaster, many families were either living in crowded evacuation centres or makeshift shelters. They wanted to rebuild their homes but didn’t have basic reconstruction materials such as hammers, nails, wood and galvanized iron sheets. MSF distributed over 27,400 shelter and reconstruction kits, and nearly 72,000 relief items such as hygiene kits, mosquito nets and cooking utensils.
MSF staff unloading non-food items on North Gigante island of Panay. © Laurence Hoenig
Preventing disease outbreaks
Natural disasters do not necessarily lead to epidemics. However, unhygienic and overcrowded living conditions can increase the risk of diseases spreading. In the aftermath of a disaster of this scale, it is imperative that prevention measures are taken to mitigate the risks.
MSF teams provided clean water, rehabilitated water points, carried out waste management and constructed latrines. © Florian Lems
Mental Health support
MSF provided a broad range of mental health support and care integrated into its medical activities. The severity of the crisis tested many people’s resilience, as many of them suffered anxiety and psychological distress while they struggled with loss and bereavement.
Kids were asked to draw their experience of the typhoon during a psycho-social activity for children. It offered simple ways for children to express their feeling and deal with their emotional struggles and needs. © Julie Remy