12/13/2013 05:40 EST | Updated 02/12/2014 05:59 EST

Canadian-Style Collaboration is Key in Philippines Relief

You've heard the news and you've seen the photos. Typhoon Haiyan has affected about 14 million people, including 4 million who remain displaced from their homes. How will the survivors, who have lost so much, be able to get through the tragedy and re-build their lives?

Collaboration is key.

Imagine losing everything. What are the most essential things you would need? Clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene, food and shelter are of course top priority.

Since day one of the crisis in the Philippines, Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has been actively delivering these necessities to survivors of the typhoon. Our efforts are part of what we call 'rapid deployment,' the well-honed collaboration of humanitarian organizations in disasters. The aim: deploying the best people and the most resources to meet the greatest number of people in need.

Among the many efforts we've engaged in, ACF recently undertook a special mission to reach an isolated, mountainous community of 2,000 people in the remote region of Panay Island.

With roads cut off, relief workers had not been able to access the people of this region, who were increasingly desperate for food and other supplies. ACF has a well-deserved reputation as the agency that 'gets the job done' even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. We had to find a way to reach the people of Panay. In assessing the local situation in Panay, ACF quickly recognized that there were only two access options: a grueling four-day hike or a short helicopter flight.

As part of emergency relief efforts, the Canadian Armed Forces DART team was in the area with helicopters. The Canadians are well regarded in the Philippines, with no perceived bias to any local players. The perception of Canada's neutrality allowed us to build an unusual, strategic humanitarian collaboration: ACF would reach the villages of Panay Island with the use of helicopters provided by DART.

It was a rare collaboration. Humanitarian organizations like ours are founded on the principles of neutrality and independence from military and governments, as this protects our ability to access all people in need, irrespective of their race, gender, religion or political affiliation.

Working with the DART helicopters and crews, our teams delivered NRG5 (a high energy biscuit) as well as clean water and other much-needed essentials to the people of Panay. As soon as the helicopter touched down, able-bodied men and women from the villages joined ACF teams in distributing the emergency supplies, bringing them swiftly to those most in need. Meanwhile, other ACF team members--together with local health workers--conducted rapid surveys to assess the degree of malnutrition and other critical health requirements.

When the work of this first phase was completed and the helicopter left, children gathered around and waved goodbye. The message was clear: We didn't just bring food--we brought re-assurance that they are not alone.

Our work in Panay, and other regions of the Philippines, has only just begun.

Emergency food aid is a stop-gap solution. Panay is comprised of barangays (villages) that mostly rely on subsistence farming or fishing. The typhoon destroyed everything. Rice fields must be re-planted, and urgently. Farmers and fishermen need help replacing their assets and re-establishing their businesses. Homes, built mostly with bamboo and coconut leaves, must be rebuilt along with infrastructure for clean water and sanitation.

To help these communities and others throughout the country regain their strength, reestablish their livelihoods, and create resilience against future disruptions, ACF will work closely with local governments, civil societies and the communities at large.

Community participation, like the kind we saw in Panay, is key to success. It not only helps things get done faster, it also helps the community rebuild itself, providing a sense of empowerment and enthusiasm for those who are reeling from trauma and loss.

Here in Canada, we are a long way from the Philippines but we're part of the recovery, too. Donations from Canadians and others around the world allow us to rapidly deploy teams with relief supplies in the earliest days, and continue with recovery efforts over months and even years. Much more is still needed: the UN estimates that less than half of the $301 million needed for the Philippines recovery has been raised.

To help bridge this funding gap, the Government of Canada is matching individual Canadian donations to registered charities providing relief work in the Philippines. The Government has extended its matching deadline to Dec. 23.

Other parts of the world -- places like the tiny villages tucked away in the mountains of the Philippines -- can seem far away. Yet when I see Canadians taking action, whether it's the Canadian DART helicopters helping ACF teams get to work quickly, or super-celeb Justin Bieber flying to Tacloban City, or even a small donation, the world seems a little smaller. I'm inspired once again by this generosity of spirit that connects Canadians to the most vulnerable people around the world.


Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES)