By: Sarah Devine – Asst. News Editor
After a powerful typhoon hit the Philippines Friday, Nov. 8, University of Dayton students and faculty with ties to the affected areas have initiated relief efforts on campus and are trying to raise awareness about the devastation.
Typhoon Haiyan, known locally in the Pacific island chain as Typhoon Yolanda, made landfall in the provinces of Samar and Leyte, barrelling east through the islands with estimated sustained winds of 160 mph and gusts up to 186 mph, according a report by The Economist. A 16-foot storm surge accompanied the high winds, decimating port cities and low-lying areas, according to the report. The typhoon has killed at least 3,982 people, injured 18,266 people and left 1,602 people missing, according to the latest government tally.
Anthony Talbott, a lecturer in the political science department, said he has spent time in the Philippines and has studied the culture, politics and religion of the country extensively.
He said Typhoon Haiyan was “the perfect storm” in addition to preexisting problems with poverty, overpopulation and the environment, which made the impact of the disaster worse.
“There’s so much poverty and overpopulation that any time there is storm, it will cause damage and destruction because there are so many people. It’s like one-third of the U.S. population living on that small chain of islands,” Talbott said.
The population of the Philippines is 96.71 million, according to 2012 statistics collected by the World Bank.
Talbott said the areas hit hardest have been a center of conflict and marginalization throughout the history of the country. Talbott explained the Philippines was first a colony of Spain, then the United States and it currently has communist factions rebelling against the government. He said the government is semi-democratic and citizens do have a “say,” but it has a history of corruption.
“Because of these conflicts, there is a lack of development. There is violence and the government does not have a good history of relations with the area hardest hit,” he said.
While there is a lack of infrastructure in smaller towns, Talbott said most large cities are as developed as any American city. He said this phenomenon is reflective of the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in the Philippines.
The World Bank reported the country had a poverty rate of 26.5 percent in 2009.
He said widespread deforestation, the damage and destruction of coral reefs and climate change all played a role in the ruin caused by the typhoon.
Talbott said the geography of the islands is generally mountainous, forcing many Filipinos to reside along the coast.
“There was this massive storm surge probably from the biggest storm ever on record. There was nowhere to go,” he said.
Talbott explained he married while stationed with the Navy in the Philippines and had two children, and his children’s relatives still reside there. He said they live in a small remote area of Samar within 100 miles of the affected area where cell phone service is being restored and internet is unavailable currently. Talbott said he uses Facebook to stay connected with them and hasn’t heard anything about their condition.
He said the United States has positive relations with the area and has claimed it “as sphere of influence,” meaning the government has an obligation to help. Talbott stressed aid is not a matter of “need” for Filipinos, but a right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The Philippines is the largest Catholic country in Asia. We have a responsibility as a university with a social justice mission. With so many Filipino students here and Filipinos living in the area, we need to do something. The level of destruction is unbelievable,” he said.
Cousins Rachel Bernardo, a senior communication major, and Nate Sevier, a junior international studies major, said they have family also living in the affected areas.
“About five days after the typhoon hit, we were able to get in contact with my grandpa or “lolo”. He is in Samar. We also have a grandmother in Tacloban City, but she wasn’t there at the time the typhoon hit. She was visiting friends in the north of the country miraculously. Her house and belongings were taken away in the storm surge and completely destroyed,” Sevier said.
Bernardo and Sevier said they are first-generation Filipino-American, the nation’s second-largest Asian-American group with more than 3.4 million, according to the 2010 Census.
“It was scary not having cell phone or Internet contact with them. We’ve always been able to be in contact with them, but everything was cut off,” Sevier said.
Bernardo said the feeling of “helplessness” spurred them to initiate a relief effort on campus.
Sevier said they will be collecting summer clothing, canned food, personal care items, blankets, tarps and flashlights to be shipped to the affected areas.
“We always throw around the word community, but sometimes I feel like we don’t spread that word outside of the ‘UD bubble,’” Bernardo said. “When we focus on the typhoon, we recognize there are other communities out there that need help.”
To donate items or get involved in the relief effort, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.