It is unthinkable to most of us that as well as having to contend with the basic human need of finding food and water, shelter for you and your family and medicine to prevent disease spreading or treat those with wounds, hundreds of thousands of women and girls will face the very real risk of violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, forced marriage and trafficking (linked above).
As many as 9.8 million people have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan. It is estimated that over 800,000 people have been displaced by the super typhoon which first hit the eastern Philippines in the early morning, 8 November. As many as 4 million children are at risk from the damage caused by the typhoon. With such a wide area affected, it is impossible at this point to predict what the death toll could be – 10,000 is one estimate. While thousands of bodies are being recovered, countless people remain missing.
Those who have survived this super storm – the strongest in recorded history – now face a severe health crisis. Not only are food, clean water, and shelter in short supply but the threat of widespread disease, increased by a shortage or lack of medical supplies (including much-needed anti-tetanus vaccines), now complicates the survival of those living in the affected areas. Aid has been slow in reaching those in need due to the high levels of devastation. Debris and damaged roads have made it essentially impossible to reach anyone in the rural regions yet.
Aid is coming to Tacloban: medical supplies, pallets of water and food piled on trucks, planes and ferries, sent by the Philippine government and countries around the world. But the scale of the disaster and challenges of delivering the assistance means few in this city, strewn with debris and corpses, have received any help.
As is common with any natural disaster, people desperate to survive have begun looting what stores or homes they can find still standing.
“People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much … the malls, the grocery stories have all been looted, ” [one survivor] said. “They’re empty. People are hungry. And they [the authorities] cannot control the people” (Huffington, linked above).
Internationally, relief efforts are gathering supplies and funds to send as aid to the Philippines. At the bottom of this post, you will see a list of organizations who are seeking donations to increase the relief efforts in the Philippines.
Violence inevitably follows natural disasters. Tragically, people take advantage of the general chaos and preoccupied law enforcement following a natural disaster such as an earthquake, a tornado, or a hurricane for personal gain. Sociologists call this a breakdown in the social order. However you choose to look at it, crime rates often rise after a disaster has occurred, including looting, domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual violence. Within recent history, news reports have included such activity following events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy or May’s deadly Oklahoma tornado in the United States and, to a lesser degree, the 2011 earthquake and 2011/2013 tsunamis in Japan. Child trafficking is also increased following natural disasters, as seen in Haiti after the earthquake there in 2010.
In the wake of a disaster, victim services are limited and crimes may be difficult to report – understandably so considering the enormous upheaval and devastation law enforcement and emergency personnel will combat in the weeks following a storm. The trauma of a catastrophic event affects each person in a unique way and some will resort to violence, often as an attempt to regain control after such uncontrollable loss. Violence becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism by which the trauma and pain is prolonged and intensified for victims.
Helga West offers insight into this social phenomenon:
“Sexual violence against women and children who become displaced is historically documented, with the collapse of societal supports, overall increased vulnerability, a lack of companion support, feelings of powerlessness and anger, and unsafe shelter being cited as contributing factors (New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, 2005). During the chaos that accompanies destructive natural or human-induced disasters, some see the opportunity to prey on those who are affected and vulnerable, perpetrating violent crime. We saw evidence of this in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where survivors of the storm experienced muggings, identity theft, aggravated assault, sexual violence, and gang rape (unconfirmed claims of murder have also been reported).
What we know from examining the longer-term impact of disasters and times of emergency is that reported crime rates generally drop in every category except domestic violence, which can increase dramatically (Tucker, 2001). In fact, some communities have seen as much as a 50 percent increase in police reports of domestic violence after disaster (Norris, 2005). Many who have researched this phenomenon suggest that some survivors of natural disasters or other unexpected tragedies feel that life is so volatile and unpredictable that they inflict violence on family members in order to regain some sense of control. Others note that the increased strain on everyday life creates a breeding ground for family violence, which can be fueled by common unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and substance use, self-injury, aggression, etc.
Both crisis response and crisis intervention can help to lay the foundation for reducing anxiety and educating survivors and their families on trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and common disaster responses. It is clear, however, that longer-term trauma support is essential, especially for those with pre-existing trauma, substance abuse, or psychiatric histories.
History shows us that while many individuals will make a full psychological recovery within 12 to 24 months following a disaster; post-event stressors such as the disruption of basic needs, stressful life events (e.g., loss of a home or job, displacement), and loss of internal and external resources (e.g., a sense of control or social ties) can make healing even more difficult (Kilpatrick & Freedy, 1994). Even under the best of circumstances following a crisis, victims often need support far beyond crisis intervention, often for periods of two years or more.
We also know that every individual heals differently and at a personal pace. In order to minimize the social, cultural, familial, and personal impact of destructive events, we need to ensure that programs and services are available for a longer period of time and gain a deeper understanding of who may be at risk or have a more difficult time in the aftermath.
For survivors who have experienced crime and may not have the knowledge, resources, access, or capacity to reach out for help, service providers within the criminal justice system and victim assistance communities need to be especially assertive and understanding to ensure that core victim rights are upheld and that services can be established for those in need. Other providers need to also consider that some of the individuals and families being served may have experienced violent crime, and it is therefore essential that they have an understanding of early signs of trauma, reporting protocols, and safety procedures. Good community connections and collaborations will help to bridge services from one community to the next so that all wounds—physical, emotional, and spiritual—can receive attention.
Survivors of violence can have an especially difficult time coping in the aftermath of disaster. The shock, loss of safety, increased anxiety, fear, and absence of traditional supports can trigger feelings and reactions from earlier traumas. Because survivors may not understand the relationship between “what’s happening now” and “what happened back then” regarding trauma, it is imperative that we foster greater public understanding of the nature and impact of trauma and the interrelation between trauma, substance abuse, and mental health concerns and how this experience can affect health, ability to focus, relationships, sleep, emotional state, and more. Service and healthcare providers, employers, community groups, families, and individuals all need to have a sense of how trauma may impact people and relationships.” – After the Crisis: Victims of Violence in Times of Disaster or Emergency
Despite the destruction and pain so many in the world face each day, there is still hope. We can still find encouragement and good news amidst the very bad.
Fred Rogers told the story, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” His mother was right; while there will always be people who seek to take advantage of another person’s pain and misfortune, there will also be those who, sometimes at risk to their own health and safety, go out of their way to help.
They are the people who enter burning buildings to rescue persons they’ve never met. They are the people who rush to the aid of the wounded on the streets of a city after a bomb has detonated. They are the people who step between a child and a gunman. They are the people who share their meager resources with others. They are the parents who shield their infants from falling debris.
They are people like Muelmar Magallanes who, at the age of 18, sacrificed his own life to save his family and 30 of his neighbors during the Manila typhoon of 2009.
The love these people are able to display to their fellow man – seeking nothing in return – is a picture of the perfect, sacrificial love God has for people.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Alex Early wrote:
“How can I trust God today looking at this mess? This weather is literally dark, bleak, and gut-wrenching. And the writers of the Bible lived in this same world with earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, famines, and plagues and still looked the people of this world in the face and declared in faith that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
So where’s God right now? …there is nothing that happens in this world outside of God’s [control] —but today we have no ultimate answer about why Sandy destroyed so much other than to say that our world has been under a curse as a result of sin (Rom. 8:20) and that because of the good work of Jesus, God has promised that he is going to create a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1) and for that we wait with eager patience (Rom. 8:23, 25).”
God is not an emotional band-aid to be whipped out each time something tragic happens. Saying “God is in control” is not a quick-fix for all of our problems. We still experience heartache and words alone, though powerful, cannot remove that hurt. While I do fully trust God’s love and complete control, I am still prone to ask Alex’s question – where was God when that typhoon struck five days ago? Where was He when buildings toppled and children were swept out to sea?
I cannot tell you why God did not stop that typhoon, that earthquake, that hurricane, that tornado, that famine, that person from abusing you and using you and causing you pain. I think it would be wrong of me to try – I do not know the mind and heart of God. I have my own doubts, as well. All I can do is trust that He knows what He is doing, far above anything I could understand, and love the people who are hurting. What I believe about God is wasted and empty if I am not loving people who suffer – acting upon my belief. In the Bible, God commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. All the religiosity in the world will fall short unless I am willing to sacrifice myself for another person, just as Jesus suffered and sacrificed Himself for me.
I can tell you this, in the words of David Fairchild:
“…though there may be a thousand objections to the goodness of God and his purposes for allowing such a tragedy, one thing we know for certain [is] our God loves and cares about us enough to suffer with us and for us.
The birth of Jesus into a world riddled with sin is God’s response [to this tragedy]. The cross of Jesus stands as the greatest display of God’s love for us and the loudest declaration of the lengths to which he will go to win our hope. The resurrection of Jesus settles our hearts and reminds us that even though this is not the way it’s supposed to be, it will not always be this way.
God draws near to those who have lost what is dearest to them. And he does so through his people. And when someone asks us, ‘Where was God when this happened?’ we can say with a hope-filled heart and trembling voice, ‘God is in the same place today as he was when his own Son hung on a cross.’ Jesus Christ took all this evil and suffering and swallowed it as a bitter pill. God so loves this sin-sick world that he gave his only Son to it. And whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life with our Father in a world made right.”
To aid in Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda rescue and recovery efforts, consider donating to one of the following agencies:
The Red Cross (International)
Not sure which charity is right for you? Read How to Choose a Charity to Donate To.