The destruction that Typhoon Haiyan left in the Philippines is almost unimaginable. Up to 10,000 feared dead. Entire cities leveled. Hundreds of thousands of survivors without clean water, food, electricity or any way to communicate with the outside world. It will take a heroic and sustained effort by the United States and the global community to keep this tragedy from mushrooming into an even worse humanitarian disaster in the coming days and weeks. The U.S. government should lead by providing essential support and relief. And Americans should look to donate to established charities working on the ground.
Authorities said the typhoon, whose winds were among the strongest ever recorded, affected some 10 million people, or one-tenth of the population, when it roared ashore Friday. Haiyan hit the country's eastern seaboard before moving rapidly across the central islands, with wind gusts of nearly 185 mph and a storm surge in excess of 13 feet. In Tacloban, a city of 220,000 that took the brunt of the storm, a U.S. Marine general reported that "every single building, every single house" was damaged. The U.S. military dispatched water, generators, heavy equipment and other material to Tacloban, and placed a Marine contingent in the city. But the scope of the task is only now becoming clear as rescuers begin to reach the more remote areas affected by the storm.
Secretary of State John Kerry sent a sign of encouragement Monday by pledging the nation's full commitment to the recovery effort. The American military is unique in its ability to manage the logistics of moving aid and rescue personnel where they are needed, given the destruction to roads and ports and the lack of communications and electricity in the ravaged areas. The administration should be prepared to broaden its role in the coming days as the demand for water, housing and sanitation become increasingly important for containing the public health crisis.
The administration needs to work with the Philippines in organizing the global relief effort. Getting aid to the affected areas will require not only the massive resources of the U.S. military but smaller assets, from boats and trucks to temporary housing, that other international partners can bring to the table. The global community should also be open to playing a security role. That is key to maintaining public order and getting supplies into the right hands. And private donors should give early and stick with known charities to ensure the money gets to those in need. This is a tragedy of a global scale that calls for a global response.