ShelterBox establishes its first operations base outside the UK in time for typhoons in Philippines

New Philippines base in the path of Typhoon Alley has ‘already improved our ability to respond to this season’s storms’

Disaster relief agency ShelterBox set up its new operations base in the Philippines in time for tropical storms Kai Tak and Tembin.

A team from ShelterBox has been working with the Philippines Government and the Rotary Club of Biliran Island, focusing on the municipalities of Caibiran, Almeria, Naval and Biliran which suffered serious flooding, mudslides and loss of homes and livelihoods when two months of rainfall fell within two days. ShelterBox aid distributions have been carried out on the island of Biliran, providing families with vital weather-resilient tents, shelter kits for waterproofing damaged properties, and other desperately needed items including solar lights, water carriers, blankets and mosquito nets.

ShelterBox and Rotary worked together to help those affected by Tropical Storms Kai Tak and Tembin

The more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit right in the firing line of one of the world’s most deadly storm systems, known by meteorologists as ‘Typhoon Alley’. On average, ShelterBox responds to disasters here around twice a year and it is intended that the new office ‘ShelterBox Operations Philippines’ sited at Cebu, the first of its kind for the UK-based organisation, will help get vital emergency shelter to vulnerable families even more quickly.

Dave Ray, an experienced member of the UK-based Operations team, has recently returned from Biliran Island, and says, ‘Since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 the Philippine Government has strongly favoured agencies that are registered and sited in the Philippines, as well as those sourcing their aid from within the country. ShelterBox Operations Philippines, with its aid supplies for 1,000 to 2,000 families, has already improved our ability to respond to this season’s storms, and when it is fully staffed and operational later this year its local expertise will make us even more efficient and effective.’

‘Of course, it was always likely we would be called into action before our new office was fully open. The pre-positioned aid items and local contacts were already there, and our response team was on the ground with Rotary partners able to act faster because of our new in-country status. A new Philippines project Office Development Manager has also joined the organisation recently.’

Shelterbox camp at Biliran

ShelterBox is a UK-based international disaster relief charity specialising in emergency shelter.,Since its start in 2000 it has helped more than 1.1 million people worldwide rebuild their lives, and it has fundraising affiliates cross the world. However, whilst ShelterBox pre-positions aid in storage hubs such as Panama, Dubai and Malaysia, all operational activity including deploying aid and volunteers to disasters zones has always been coordinated from the UK headquarters in Truro.

ShelterBox has responded to catastrophes in the Philippines more frequently than to any other country in the world – 24 times in the last 13 years. Located on the island of Cebu, one of the areas worst hit by the record-breaking Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, ShelterBox Operations Philippines already stores enough shelter items to help around 2,000 families, with capacity for far more in the future.

ShelterBox Chief Executive, Chris Warham says,‘This is a first for ShelterBox, and a huge achievement. It shows ShelterBox’s flexible and agile model at work. We have assessed and understood the situation of some of the most vulnerable communities in the world, and come up with a different approach to make sure we are best placed to help quickly whenever disaster strikes. As a charity with limited resources, having teams and aid ready where and when they are needed will be more efficient, which is also an absolute priority for us.’

Aid is deployed by any means necessary. “Whatever it takes”

ShelterBox Operations Philippines was created by working closely with local Rotary groups. ShelterBox is Rotary International’s official Project Partner in disaster relief, and together they form one of the world’s most effective humanitarian collaborations, with many Rotarians around the world volunteering and raising money for ShelterBox. The fully trained team for the new base will be in position soon, a new arm of the HQ Operations staff in the UK.

Meteorologists refer to the West Pacific as ‘Typhoon Alley’ with good reason. Tropical storms gather out at sea with almost no landfall to slow them down before they hit South East Asia. Between 2000 and 2014, 41 super typhoons were recorded there. That’s almost four times as many as are generated in the Atlantic.

Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, the deadliest typhoon on record killing 6,300 people, triggered major changes in how the Philippines responds to its constant barrage of tropical storms. The Philippine Government now requests international assistance less often, limiting tax-free importing. They also now strongly favour agencies that are registered and sited in the Philippines, as well as those locating their aid from within the country.

You can support those affected by disaster by donating here: ShelterBox Australia

Working Within A Cluster Group ‘Invaluable To ShelterBox’

Portrait of Operations Coordinator, Dave Ray

Dave Ray, ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, is currently working in Malawi as Deputy Cluster Coordinator for a cluster group formed to help manage the response to widespread flooding in Malawi.
Torrential rain continues to fall in Malawi as it suffers from the worst floods in 40 years and current reports suggest that more than 230,000 people have had to leave their homes as a result.
During such large-scale disasters, agencies come together to form cluster groups, so that they can coordinate their response and work towards common objectives within a particular sector of emergency response, such as health, food or shelter. Cluster groups are not only formed to coordinate a national response, but are often used as a way to work efficiently at a local level too.
Dave is working to coordinate the shelter cluster within the areas affected by flooding in Southern Malawi. This cluster is working to assist the Malawi Red Cross in its role as co-Chair of the national shelter cluster.
He explained why working in a cluster is so important: ‘Creating a cluster group gives agencies, such as ShelterBox, the space and opportunity to work together to provide a coordinated response.
‘The members of a cluster group use their experience and overall knowledge of a disaster to steer organisations towards an agreed way of working and can help set standards that everyone has to work to.
‘As part of a cluster, our main role is to support agencies so that they can give the best possible aid to those people in need of shelter.’
Coordination and communication are key
Dave is currently situated in the south of the country, where he is helping to coordinate responses in the districts of Nsanje, Zomba, Phalombe, Chikwawa, and Blantyre.
Each day includes a lot of travelling, as he is helping to set up and support cluster groups in each of the districts to make sure that aid agencies and local groups are coordinating, rather than overlapping or conflicting with each other.
Dave also spends a lot of time visiting the temporary camps that have sprung up throughout Southern Malawi, so that he can report back to the central cluster based in the capital of Lilongwe and flag up any issues or gaps in the provision of aid that need filling.
He said: ‘It’s really important to stay informed, as things can change so quickly following such a massive disaster.
‘For example, we’ve recently found that there appears to be a difference between the number of people staying in displacement camps over night to the amount that have been registered. It’s possible that some people have registered to the camps so that they can receive food, but that they are returning to flooded and unsafe villages or staying in overcrowded host communities.
‘Having a full and up-to-date picture of the situation helps to reach all of the people who need shelter’
A greater insight into the shelter sector 
Dave completed the training to become a shelter cluster coordinator last July, after the role was recommended to him by a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) – the organisation that convenes shelter clusters after natural disasters.
Dave’s role in the shelter cluster has been fully supported by ShelterBox, as his experience is providing an invaluable insight into the shelter sector and will help to inform how ShelterBox works in the future.
He said: ‘Being able to see how a shelter cluster works from the inside is invaluable, as I’ve been able to learn more about how agreed standards of working are set and the different processes of different organisations, as well as their capacity to help in terms of money and resources.
‘I can also see more clearly how different sectors and situations can overlap, as well as how conflicts between organisations could happen. For example, people using schools as shelters has implications for organisations who are trying to focus on education, as well as those whose main objective is to provide shelter
‘Most importantly, by working within the cluster, I’ve been able to get a wider, overall view of the situation and have learnt how politics come into play when responding to a disaster, as well as the wider impact of different approaches to providing aid.’
Gathering respect in the shelter community
‘This knowledge can really help to inform ShelterBox’s decision-making in the future, so that we can provide the most appropriate aid in the most appropriate way.
‘Our ShelterBox response team members, who have been working in Malawi for several weeks, are already gathering respect from the wider cluster community for their ability to work with other organisations and to provide the best possible response for people affected by the floods.
‘By also participating in the cluster process, it shows that ShelterBox is looking to have a bigger role in the sector and really understands the importance of engaging with the wider community.’