Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Typhoons: What's happening in Asia Pacific?

What's happening in Asia Pacific? The region is tragically living up to its reputation as one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world with four near-simultaneous disasters – devastation from Typhoon Ketsana and torrential rains in the Philippines and Viet Nam in South East Asia, and a strong earthquake followed by a tsunami on the Samoan islands, in the Pacific. 

In addition, at the time of writing, a 7.9 earthquake was recorded on Wednesday 30 September, off the West coast of Indonesia, about 50 kilometres from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra.  Buildings were damaged but there are no reports of deaths or injuries, so far. A tsunami watch was immediately issued for Indonesia, India, Thailand and Malaysia. 

We have had people on the ground working closely with the national Red Cross societies in the region. Our communicators were dispatched to or already positioned in the disaster zones and we are feeding the media machine as best we can. There is a special page on our website dedicated to the whole region which also includes useful Google maps. There is a twitter stream too and on the news side of our website we have issued reports and press releases (already 3 different articles today).

Our colleagues in the region are now flat out for about one week now. The time differences make it almost impossible to rest as the US media (for instance) wake up when Asia Pacific goes to bed but during these days nobody sleeps much. And Europe of course is sandwiched in the middle.

These disasters have taken the lives of hundreds of people across the region, sowed devastation, chaos and economic hardship, and are severely testing the mettle and disaster preparedness of both governments and humanitarian actors. For their part, Red Cross Societies in the region immediately mobilized thousands of volunteers and staff skilled in disaster management. Thanks to early warning systems, many communities at risk were evacuated ahead of the Typhoon and the tsunami; shelters were set up, pre-positioned relief stocks distributed as well as water and food. 

While the loss of life could have been much greater this should not belittle the devastation caused and the massive economic and social losses which will have to be regained.

Volunteers among the first to respond 

The fact that Red Cross avolunteers are based in the communities affected, close to the people, makes it possible to mobilize emergency help immediately, and to respond to four large emergencies at the same time. 

Some 135 Samoa Red Cross volunteers are currently distributing clean water, first aid supplies, tarpaulins and other relief to affected families. These specially-trained volunteers initially provided early warnings to people in coastal settlements to stay clear of beaches, they supported evacuation efforts in and around Apia, and are managing three camps for the displaced. They are also participating in needs assessments. According to officials, at least 79 people have died and it is estimated that 60 villages and 15,000 people have been affected by this disaster. Tremors continue to shake the country, and tsunami alarms are still sounding.

In Tonga, reports indicate that the Niuas Islands and several villages were flooded, preliminary figures put the death toll at seven, with three people missing. The Tonga Red Cross has mobilized its volunteers to provide emergency assistance and conduct further assessments.

In Viet Nam, the death toll stands at 38 to date, with 10 people reported missing and at least 81 injured. An estimated three million people have been affected. Flooding has been the worst in 45 years in some provinces (Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Kon Tum) and extensive damage is reported to rice paddies, sugar cane, vegetables and aquaculture. Access to flooded communes and mountainous districts is very difficult. Red Cross staff and volunteers continue to manage shelters and provide emergency relief to affected families.

In the Philippines, still reeling from the devastation brought by Typhoon Ketsana, the current death toll stands at 246 people, according to official figures, with 38 missing and five injured. Some two million people are estimated to have been affected, with nearly 570,000 displaced.

Thousands of Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) volunteers have been working round the clock since 26 September in search and rescue operations, delivering food and other relief items to survivors, psychosocial support to traumatized families and first aid to the sick and injured.


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