In an emergency…

It’s been three weeks since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.
Three weeks since 13 million people had their lives torn apart.
It’s nearly three weeks since a DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal began for those affected.

In the British world of international aid and relief, DEC is a very good thing. Founded in 1963, it’s a coalition of aid agencies (currently numbering 14) that joins forces whenever there is deemed to be a disaster that meets its criteria. Usually, these are disasters on a massive scale, requiring huge amounts of resources, and that the coalition of agencies would have been supporting anyway. In working together, duplication is avoiding and funds can be channelled more effectively.

The Typhoon Haiyan appeal is the second DEC appeal of 2013. In March, the Syria Crisis Appeal was launched (and is still going, as that situation is far from resolved), and on the 12th of November, the Philippines Typhoon Appeal began. As part of the appeal, DEC organised a Q&A event to enable supporters and agencies to ask questions about how the funds were being spent and how aid was making its way to those who need it. Thanks to Tearfund, I was asked to go along and participate as a blogger and live-tweeter – a great privilege, which hopefully didn’t annoy my Twitter followers too much. [Actually, as I said at the time, I don’t really care if they were annoyed, as supporting and communicating about the appeal is really important.] As I result, I learnt a lot of things that are definitely worth sharing. (And, in case you’re wondering, I’ve not shared them sooner thanks to a lurgy that struck me down within hours of the event finishing.)

DEC_BTTowerNov2013_0072_smallThe panel in mid-flow.

That photo of the panel says a lot. In that line up we had represented (right to left): Islamic Relief; British Red Cross; Tearfund; CARE International; World Vision and, with the microphone, the CEO of DEC. The beauty of DEC, aside from the work it funds, is that its a place where Islamic Relief sits alongside a Christian agency like Tearfund or CARE. (Other Christian agencies in DEC include Action Aid, CAFOD & Christian Aid.)

A big issue at the moment is how money donated in such campaigns is spent on admin – is the money given in good faith really getting to where it needs to be? In the case of DEC, yes. In actual fact, the cost of admin is massively reduced by the collaboration of the agencies involved, because they’re sharing costs. In the case of the typhoon appeal, less than 4% of donations is spent on administering the funds.

DEC_BTTowerNov2013_0070_smallRight at the bottom of the big screen is a shot of Plan UK’s Phillip Rundell live from Manila. 

A lot of time at the panel was spent explaining how aid was being distributed. One of the reasons why the effects of the typhoon have been so extreme is owing to the remote nature of the islands concerned. It took a long time for aid to reach some of the most isolated victims, but hearing a Plan UK team-member sharing what was happening via Skype from Manila, demonstrated the lengths relief agencies are going to in order to get supplies out there. It’s extreme – in some cases requiring banana boats sailing down narrow rivers that are barely wide enough to get through. Air drops often aren’t possibly, neither is driving. But they are finding ways to manage it.

Don’t forget about these disasters once they disappear from the news. At the time of writing, there is no mention the typhoon on the home page of the Guardian or the BBC website (or their world news sections). It’s been three weeks and time moves on. But things haven’t moved on very far in the Philippines. As the media coverage scales down, the aid ramps up. These agencies are in it for the long-haul, looking to re-build better (a model that was used to great effect in the Boxing Day Tsunami aftermath), and provide assistance according to the priorities of the local people.

The immediate response to typhoon warnings reflected the impact of work done in the area following the tsunami. In many areas, the population was evacuated to safety, in line with a disaster warning plan. It saved lives, but obviously didn’t help to save homes.

All in all, it was an enlightening, reassuring and heart-breaking hour. These agencies are doing fantastic things in terrible circumstances. Humanly speaking, we can’t do a huge amount to stop typhoons causing devastation, but we can do our best to support those left vulnerable afterwards. Here’s how you can help.

DEC Typhoon Appeal

One final thing, when doing a Q&A with the hashtag #AskDEC, it’s probably inevitable that some Brits might assume it had something to do with TV presenting duo Ant & Dec. This resulted in some amusing, yet slightly inappropriate tweets finding their way into the timeline…


  1. This is a really helpful and great post Liz! dispels a lot of the myths about aid and humanitarian work! thanks on behalf of aid workers everywhere!!!

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