A Toronto paramedic is returning to his Philippines’ hometown of Iloilo where he worked as a doctor as part of GlobalMedic’s relief operations’ team response to typhoon Haiyan.
Pepito Biclar is among 20-plus GlobalMedic volunteers — paramedics, police officers, firefighters, nurses, water engineers and an experienced shelter specialist — heading to the cities of Cebu, Iloilo and Tacloban following Philippine Red Cross reports the widespread devastation has affected an estimated 9.5 million people. More than 615,000 people are currently displaced, and close to 4,000 have died, the agency reported.
Haiyan hit landfall with sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour, 43 km/h higher than the threshold for a Category 5 hurricane, the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, the United Nations (UN) reported.
In all three areas, volunteers from Etobicoke-based GlobalMedic will install water purification units, distribute water purification tablets, support medical clinics, deliver essential medicines and complete quick intervention projects, like repairs to shelters and schools.
The UN has categorized the emergency at the highest level, and is mobilizing the entire worldwide humanitarian system.
“The UN has called this a ‘megadisaster’. It has mobilized the entire humanitarian community,” GlobalMedic’s director Rahul Singh said Friday morning amid conversations with his volunteers to deploy aid by air freight that day, while also reading cell phone BBM updates from the field.
“But in order for the entire humanitarian community of the world to get there and stand up, it’s fast, but it’s not that fast. It’s two, three, four weeks. What we do is fill in the gaps.
“Our job is we’re there first. We’re fanned out. We’re quick. We’re nimble. We’re small in different areas. We’re getting aid out now to fill those gaps. We’re buying time for the bigger agencies to come in.”
Visit www.globalmedic.ca to donate. The federal government is matching Canadians’ donations up to $5 million to humanitarian organizations like GlobalMedic responding to typhoon-ravaged Philippines’ relief between Nov. 8 and Dec. 9.
GlobalMedic had mobilized and will deliver as of Guardian deadline Friday five million water purification tablets, 12 water purification units, $100,000 worth of essential medicines and three ‘superstructures’, giant, military-like tents that are semi-permanent, capable of withstanding Category 3 winds.
Cebu is the core of GlobalMedic’s logistics for inbound humanitarian air freight and sea freight before the five- to eight-member team moves it out to just southeast of Tacloban, the airport, where it is the only relief agency operating, Singh reported.
Matt Capobianco, GlobalMedic’s manager of emergency programs, is heading the team that has set up large-scale water purification units capable of supporting a city, distribute individual units to families in isolated, under-serviced areas, support mobile medical clinics treating survivors, deliver medicines, and complete quick intervention projects, like fixing a roof on a school or shelter.
“They’re giving out water tabs. It’s up and running. But we’re facing severe fuel shortages, difficulty accessing. That team came in by air. Then we put a convoy in by road with lots of little vehicles and 22 Filipino rescuers. It took four days for the convoy to arrive. Imagine. It usually takes one-and-a-half days,” Singh said.
In Iloilo, Biclar is a member of the nine-person Canadian team leading relief efforts doing the same work as their Ceba-based colleagues.
“He’s a Filipino doctor who came to Toronto for a better life,” Singh said of Biclar, with whom he has worked. Both men are paramedics. “It’s his hometown. It will be an emotional experience for him. But I’m sure he’ll do it.”
All GlobalMedic volunteers will be deployed to the Philippines by weekend’s end, Singh reported.
Haiyan is the third major crisis to hit the Philippines in just two months. In October, the Bohol earthquake affected more than three million people, triggering landslides engulfing entire homes, destroying bridges and century-old church, the UN reported. In September, tens of thousands were forcibly displaced by armed clashes in Zamboanga City in the southern part of the country.