THE BLOG
18/11/2013 12:44 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

The Devastating Force of Typhoon Haiyan - and the Deadly Delay in Climate Talks

It didn't take long to drive from perfect normality to total devastation. Heading north from our base in Cebu city, we passed through areas completely untouched by Typhoon Haiyan. But after a few hours we started seeing trees blown down - then, suddenly, we were in the disaster zone.

The real shock for me was the sheer number of houses blown away. It wasn't just shacks that were damaged; even well-built concrete houses were ruined. I saw a whole metal roof that had been whipped off and wrapped around a tree by the force of the wind. Throughout the country, over a million homes have been damaged.

Our team from Islamic Relief was going to the island of Bantayan, part of the central Philippines which was in the direct path of the storm. Our job was to do an initial assessment of the situation and start the aid effort.

At first we made good progress. Local people had cleared the roads as well as they could. They knew aid would be coming eventually, so they organised themselves and put their efforts into making sure the trucks could get through.

The locals had done an amazing job. I've been involved in disaster response teams in previous emergencies, including the Haitian earthquake and the Pakistan floods, and compared to those crises I found the people in the Philippines a lot more hopeful. There is a sense among them that they will overcome this and rise again. Their lives have been decimated but their spirits haven't. Usually people in disasters are much more subdued.

After taking a ferry to Bantayan, we took an even smaller boat to some of the out-lying islands which no aid workers had yet managed to reach. After discussing the situation with our local partners, we decided to go to an island called Botigues. It's a really idyllic place with amazing beaches, but everything's been destroyed. There's not a single building left undamaged - you couldn't live in any of them.

Families had gathered together what materials they could from the ruins and a large number of people were all sleeping in one ruined room. They survived for days by scavenging for food, looking for coconuts blown from trees and whatever was left behind after the storm.

We were the first outsiders to arrive in the village and at first it was quite tense. There was a lot of expectation and a feeling of "please help us, it's been nearly a week" - but we didn't have anything with us. First we have to do an assessment to see what everyone needs. We can't just turn up with supplies - we need to know how much to bring to make sure everyone gets something to eat.

It took 15 hours to deliver aid to Botigues on our second visit on Thursday. We could only get there on a small banana boat, which was heavily laden - we were feeding 2,200 families with 4kg of rice each, plus other supplies of noodles, tinned meat and water. That's a lot of cargo for a small boat so there were many trips. At low tide we had to make detours to avoid running aground on sandbanks, doubling the journey time.

The aid didn't get distributed until the evening, as we wanted to give everything out at the same time, to keep things orderly and as safe as possible for everyone. People were extremely patient, and when we were ready, everyone was happy. There were smiles all round, and a great sense of joy in adversity.

Working with local aid agencies, we have now distributed food to 13,800 families in this part of northern Cebu - around 70,000 people in all - and we hope to distribute to 20,000 more families in the coming days. We're bringing in over 1,600 family-sized tents, along with plastic sheeting, to give people a roof over their heads - however basic. The needs are enormous, but the fantastic support for the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal in the UK will make a huge dent in the cost of getting aid to those who need it most.

It's amazing that the British public are always so quick to respond generously - in the first seven days of the DEC appeal, they donated a staggering £39million. But 'natural' disasters of this magnitude shouldn't happen so often, or be so devastating. A report published by Islamic Relief last year highlighted the increasing frequency and severity of climate change-related natural disasters and the mounting human and financial cost - the cost of responding to these emergencies is doubling every 12 years.

It's frustrating for any aid worker who has witnessed the horrific aftermath to hear recent news of rich nations failing to live up to their pledges to combat global warming, and to see deadlock yet again at the current climate talks in Warsaw. Time is running out before our world is faced with runaway climate change, and the people of the Philippines know this better than anyone right now.