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The Week That Was: Weathering the Storm

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As I type, the death toll in the Philippines stands at a suspected 1,200 people, with an expectation that that number can only grow.

Bodies lie in rivers; towns have been razed to the ground thanks to Typhoon Haiyan wreaking havoc across a country that needs no introduction to the devastation a natural disaster can cause.

Having family living in Manila myself, I am used to paying more attention than the average Brit each time the country makes headlines, whether that be for earthquakes, kidnappings, civil unrest or charges of corruption. This time round, the whole world has its focus.

As is so often the case when disaster hits the Philippines, it is the country's poorest who have been worst affected, with those in the richer cities - my aunt, uncle and cousins included - protected this time by geography alone.

The country, with its far-flung islands and tropical beaches, is a maze to navigate at the best of times. When winds reach hundreds of miles an hour, and phone lines are down, help can be a very long way away.

Marie Madamba-Nunez of Oxfam says: "Making sure people have clean water, safe sanitation and a roof over their heads will be an immediate priority.

"These disasters compound the burden of Philippines' poorest people. Small-scale farmers and those relying on fishing to make a living will be hardest hit. Their fields and their boats and tackle will be badly damaged and they will need help not only today, but also in months to come.

"Economic solutions to root out poverty and inequality must be paired with minimising the risk for poor communities from the vagaries of weather and climate change."

Similarities between the Boxing Day tsunami of years back are already being drawn.

"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami," Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the UN disaster assessment co-ordination team sent to Tacloban, has said.

"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris".

How will the world react? America's secretary of state, John Kerry, has offered US financial support, but it is the Red Cross who are already hard at work.

Appeals for donations are not far behind, with the hope that the public will rise to the challenge. When the tsunami hit Thailand and Sri Lanka, millions who had visited the countries on holiday wanted to do their bit. The Philippines will not hold that place in so many hearts, and yet needs just as much help, especially those individuals still battling to rebuild their lives after the earthquake on the island of Bohol last month.

Nichola Jones, a British Red Cross delegate in Bohol, said in a statement: "The humanitarian impact of Haiyan threatens to be colossal.

"Thousands of people are likely to be left without food, shelter and water - this is a double blow for the survivors of the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu, who were already battling to recover from the devastation caused. Our volunteers are already reporting significant damages, but a clearer picture will only emerge once the storm subsides."

As we obsess over whether the John Lewis Christmas ad trumps this year's Marks & Spencer version, let none of us forget what's really important this week.

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