THE BLOG
20/11/2013 05:31 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Forty-Eight Hours' Emergency Aid in the Philippines

Friday evening 18.15

I am standing on the street with a cart full of groceries. I am going to Tacloban, where there is no food, water or electricity. So I quickly buy muesli bars, nuts, Gatorade and water. Once in the car, I receive a phone call from the Australian embassy. Plan International is one of the few organisations which receives a substantial contribution from AusAID for emergency aid. I am asked whether I will come to Cebu on Saturday evening (an hour's flight from Manila) in to attend a dinner and a press conference hosted by the Australian ambassador Bill Tweddell. Bill is a supporter of Plan International, so I promise that I will try.

Friday evening 19.30

My family has waited to have dinner until I arrive; I turn off the phone for now. When I switch it back on, I talk to Victor of the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. Both he and Gieteke van de Spits are calling me regularly to hear what the latest situation is. It almost feels as if I know them. The rest of the evening is taken up by e-mails, phone calls and meetings. I quickly give my youngest daughter a cuddle before she goes to sleep.

At 22.15, I receive a text message to say the logistics are all sorted. On Saturday afternoon I can go to Cebu and on Sunday morning I will fly to Tacloban in an Australian C-130 (a military aircraft) in order to join up with the Plan team which has been working there under difficult conditions for some days. Around eleven o'clock, I roll into bed.

Saturday morning 03.15

I wake up, drink some water and check my phone. A text message from my colleague Andy: 'Can you do BBC Women's Hour?' Still half asleep, I think it says it will be at 06.00 in the morning. I text back 'yes' to Andy and set my alarm. I wake up at 5.30, re-read the text and see I overlooked the 'pm'. So I go back to bed. But I can't get to sleep; I lie thinking about the five children supported by Plan who died and wonder how high that figure will go.

Saturday 8.00

A text message from the country director of the World Food Programme: "Can you come for a meeting? Our director wants to talk to our partners". Plan works a lot with WFP on food distribution and we also receive money for our work programmes. Cripes, that will be at 11 o'clock, and I need to be heading for the airport three quarters of an hour later. A quick check to see which of my emergency aid team I can wake up and ask to go with me. The rest of the morning is spent on phone calls and above all on analysing the reports that are now coming in from the field in a constant stream.

The devastation is total, although fortunately there are some villages where the material damage is enormous but the death toll is not too high. We now have an army of technical specialists from our international office here in Manila, in many cases also acting as technical experts and guides for experts and assessment teams sent to the Philippines by other donors, because Plan International has been working in the affected region for decades.

Over the past week, we have accompanied people from ECHO (EU), USAID and numerous other INGOs. Our offices in the disaster region also act as information centres, and teams from our NGO partners often sleep in our offices - simply on the floor in sleeping bags because there are no hotels and, thanks to generators, we have power, drinking water and internet connections. We share everything we have, because right now it makes no difference who is paying our salaries; there is a genuinely fraternal atmosphere.

Saturday afternoon 12.00

On the way to Cebu to meet the Australian ambassador. I decide not to take my laptop with me, because I am already lugging a bag full of food and drinks and there is no power there anyway. So I'll do everything on my iPhone and hope that the Powerbank I hurriedly bought actually works. It would be a nightmare to no longer be reachable. I remind myself not to forget to contact my father - it's his birthday. They have had a bad week, because my mother was admitted to hospital for an emergency. My sister handled everything; there is nothing I can do from Manila and although I normally keep in touch closely, this time I only managed some quick Facebook messages and a few phone calls. I arrive in Cebu at 18.00 after a delay of two and a half hours. I quickly make a video call to my father on Skype, he is 73 today.

Sunday morning 7.00

After an early start (05.15), I am bang on time at the air force base to catch the Australian military flight. At 9.30 I arrive at a badly battered Tacloban. My team is already there and half the things we have flown in today (water and hygiene packs) are already in the evacuation centre ready to be handed out. The team loads the things onto a truck in the pouring rain. Everyone lends a hand. The airport is completely destroyed. I often come here, because Plan has an office here, but I recognise nothing of the airport.

There are no toilets, no water, no food. We don't dare to eat the muesli bars we have brought with us and now know what it is like not to have been to the toilet since 5 o'clock in the morning. There are hundreds of people around us who have not had a meal in days and are surviving on little bits of water given to them by the aid workers and the press at the airport. There are only a few commercial flights: a lot of Filipinos who work abroad have come back because their children were living with family members. This is not our target group: these are people who have money to buy tickets. All the same, how awful it must be to be working in another country as domestic help and then see on TV that the place where your child is living has been flattened by a typhoon.

Sunday afternoon 14.00

We spend the whole day waiting for Nancy Lindborg of USAID; she is the assistant administrator of DCHA, one of the top officials of USAID. She was supposed to view part of the distribution effort with us, to see with her own eyes how Plan is using the aid from USAID. Ultimately she is unable to land at Tacloban and returns to Manila with her business unfinished. A pity.

We store away the last few things in the big tent of our friends at the World Food Program and at 16.00 suddenly get word that if we want to return to Manila, we have to be ready NOW, because the C-130 is coming. It is an evacuation flight, with hundreds of people crammed into a large military aircraft. We sit on the floor, on bags and hold onto anything within reach. Nobody complains. Everyone shares the water and food we have. Some people on this flight have had to wait three days at Tacloban airport before they were able to leave, without food, drinks, toilets or chairs.

Sunday evening 20.00

Back home. Quickly finish this blog, eat something and then stand by to test the line for an interview with the BBC on Monday. Might I be able to go to bed after that?

You can help support Plan International and the people of the Philippines by donating here