The Canadian government was quick to dispatch aid to the Philippines when a devastating typhoon blew across the island nation last month, and the International Development Minister says Ottawa is now considering ways it can help Filipinos prepare for future super-storms.
Christian Paradis spent two days on the ground in the Philippines last week, observing the work of the Canadian military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Roxas City on Panay Island and then travelling to the more hard-hit community of Tacloban.
In Roxas, Mr. Paradis told The Globe and Mail on Monday, the Canadians were purifying water, which allowed local authorities to concentrate on finding shelter for the homeless. The toll in that city would have been worse, but the local population was reasonably prepared for the high winds of Typhoon Haiyan.
But Tacloban was another matter, Mr. Paradis said. The people in that city were also ready for the winds, but they had not counted on the massive surge of water. As a result, nearly four weeks after the superstorm hit, debris was still piled a metre high and “you could feel that there were bodies underneath, for sure,” he said.
The mayor of Tacloban told Mr. Paradis that his own wife and daughters survived by clipping the life jackets they were wearing to the beams of the ceiling of their home when it was filled with water.
So “when we speak about surge and things like that, there is some work to be done in preparedness. This is what I felt from the local authorities. This is where we can help in the future, to share best practices or expertise,” said Mr. Paradis. It’s too soon to say exactly what form that assistance could take, the minister said, but the government is monitoring the situation.
In the shorter term, Canada has had continuing economic development programs on the ground in the Philippines and may also be able to assist with the more immediate problems of food safety, crop regeneration and rebuilding ways for Filipinos to make income, Mr. Paradis said.
“The next harvest is coming. It means they have to plant seeds right now in December to make sure that they have a harvest in March,” said the minister. Coconut groves have been wiped out. Fishermen have lost boats and nets. “The Prime Minister has said we will monitor and assess very closely the needs,” Mr. Paradis said, “and this is what I asked of my department …”
The federal government has already committed more than $20-million in post-typhoon disaster relief, much of that matching contributions by individual Canadians.
As of Monday, the Canadian military task force in the Philippines had purified 117,633 litres of water, treated 3,321 patients, cleared 118 kilometres of road, and delivered more than 22,000 kilograms of food and other humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Paradis said he has never seen devastation on the scope he witnessed in the Philippines. But, as the MP for Lac-Mégantic, Que., where a runaway train exploded in July killing 47 people, he has seen the aftermath of a disaster in this country.
In both cases, the people have demonstrated incredible resilience, said the minister. And the message from both tragedies, he said, is that rebuilding takes time.
“What I was told by the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Lac-Mégantic and what I was told by the gentleman from the World Food Programme in Tacloban was the same thing,” Mr. Paradis said. “You cannot identify a good solution as a whole. You have to go step by step.”