Australia moves quickly to respond to Super Typhoon Haiyan

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On 8 November, Typhoon Haiyan – believed to be the strongest recorded typhoon to hit populated land – struck the Philippines with devastating force. The scale of the disaster is immense, thousands of lives have been lost and an estimated four million left homeless. In all almost 15 million people have been affected.

Yesterday I visited affected areas to assess the destruction and was impressed by the extraordinary resilience of the Filipino people in the face of devastation and tragedy. I was also heartened to see that so many countries have responded with great generosity to rally around the people of the Philippines in their time of need. 

Within hours of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall, Australia released its initial contribution of pre-positioned relief supplies to the Philippines Red Cross and the United Nations in Manila. Australian disaster response experts were deployed and an Australian Civilian Corps engineer working on the recovery program following a typhoon in Mindanao a year earlier, was re-assigned to assist with the response. 

Yesterday, I announced a further $10 million in much-needed humanitarian aid, bringing our total contribution to $40 million. The additional funds are to be used on clean water and sanitation, school rehabilitation, community health, shelter and livelihoods support. 

Our close friendship with the Philippines means that we have many Australians living and working in the country, and a large Filipino community in Australia who were distressed and anxious to hear about loved ones caught up in the disaster.

Anticipating Haiyan's likely impact before it made landfall, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a revised travel advice warning for Australians to take all necessary precautions. DFAT's crisis emergency call centre took more than 3,000 calls and confirmed the safety of about 2,250 Australians. Consular Team members on the ground located others, and worked with the Australian Defence Force and other international defence forces to evacuate more than 3,000 internally displaced people, including 27 Australians, from the affected areas. Sadly, two Australians have been confirmed dead, and consular officers continue to pursue several other cases of concern. 

The Australian response to the disaster has been a true whole-of-government effort.

The RAAF immediately transported the first Australian medical team into the affected area to establish a 50-bed field hospital with surgical capability at Tacloban Airport. In the first 24 hours, more than 100 patients were treated, including a five-year old girl who had life-saving surgery to a fractured skull. United Kingdom and Philippines medical staff also joined the Australian hospital, which became the first point of referral for surgical cases. The hospital has treated more than 2,500 patients and performed almost 200 surgeries.

The Australian Defence Force has transported almost 400 relief staff into the disaster zone and moved 850 tonnes of humanitarian and disaster relief cargo into some of the worst affected areas. The heavy landing ship, HMAS Tobruk has joined the relief and recovery effort with an Army Recovery Support Force that is now focussed on recovery tasks, including cleaning up schools, in the Ormoc area. An Australian Federal Police Disaster Victim Management Team was also deployed to work with local authorities.

We are now consulting with the Philippines Government on long-terms plans for recovery. 

During my visit, I informed our relief workers how proud I was of the part Australia had played in the response to date, including, importantly, the more than $13 million donated by Australians to non-government organisations. I have reassured our friends in the Philippines that we will continue to stand by them as they embark on the long road to recovery. I was gratified to learn that when the Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell visited Tacloban he was told by the head of the Filipino relief effort, General Deveraturda said: "We will never forget the assistance from Australia."

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