The following is tentative, hypothesis-stating and offered for correction. It is written to think-aloud about issues with implications beyond the Philippines, but informed by the concrete consequences observed in the Philippines. It is focused on Tacloban because that is the location for which there is the most current information. I am also of the opinion that urban environments tend to more clearly unveil supply chain vulnerabilities than stress in less densely populated areas.
Prior to the typhoon Tacloban was a city of about 220,000 people. It is located in the Eastern Philippines adjacent the strait separating the islands of Leyte and Samar. It is the principal urban concentration in the Eastern Philippines and a regional center for trade, transportation, education, medical care, and government services.
Leyte Province has a population of roughly 1.6 million (including Tacloban). Neighboring Samar Province has a population of roughly 730,000. The economy is largely based on rice, coconut, and sugar farming, fishing, and commerce.
Tacloban is on the Pan-Philippine Highway. The highway bridge connecting Leyte and Samar was not seriously damaged by the November 8 typhoon. Tacloban is 536 miles by highway from Manila. This usually requires at least 18-26 hours to travel (including a ferry crossing from Matnog to Allen). This week the same distance has required up to 60 hours (sometimes more see update below). Passenger ferries and, especially roll-on/roll-off ferries are key elements in the Philippines transportation system.
Maritime transport from Manila to Tacloban generally requires 30-to-40 hours depending on class of carrier and weather. Ferry transport to Cebu (now the emergency relief hub for the region) typically takes 13 hours.
Impact and Starting Basis
Tacloban was hit especially hard by the CAT-5 typhoon, perhaps the strongest to ever be recorded making landfall. Sitting at the head of the Leyte Gulf it is likely the storm surge piled up against Tacloban (as was the case at Staten Island). A 12-to-20 foot tsunami-like wave has been described by survivors.
Click on graphic to access larger view (courtesy of the BBC)
Clearly other locations in the Philippines were also hit hard. But given its especially vulnerable geography and population density, it is possible Tacloban will end up being the disaster’s epicenter even as a more complete picture emerges in the days ahead.
There is no indication of acute resource shortages prior to the typhoon. Some interviews and media reports even indicate sufficient supplies of some resources — such as fuel — for several days following the typhoon’s landfall. In other nearby locations — the city of Ormoc, for example — authorities reported at least two days supply of food on hand four days after landfall.
Further, by the end of the first week after landfall there were multiple reports of resources piling up at emergency hubs established to channel official relief supplies. (There was a Thursday post on the status of humanitarian logistics.)
Private Sector Supply Chains
I have found very little reporting related to private supply chains per se. But some impressions based on bits and bites reported here and there:
Clean water is a serious problem. The Tacloban water system was taken off-line by loss of electricity and damage to infrastructure. As of today, only about 20 percent of the city has had water service restored. Other potential sources of water were contaminated by the consequences of the typhoon.
Several key transportation nodes, especially the airport, seaport, ferry docks and such, were essentially obliterated by wind and surge. (On Saturday International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), in cooperation with the Philippine government, announced plans to donate a “mobile” port to Tacloban. It is expected to begin operations by Tuesday.)
The road network was made impassable by debris and destruction of some infrastructure. (But in most cases bridges and tarmac seem to have held up remarkably well.)
Loss of electricity and communications — as usual, interdependent — seriously compromised situational awareness, operational flexibility, and near-term response and recovery. Pumping fuel, refrigeration, financial services, and much more collapse or crawl without power.
The horrific impact on residential housing and the deaths of thousands resulted in wholesale and retail operations remaining closed in the days immediate following landfall. (The inability of local employees to staff operations in the immediate aftermath of a significant disaster is a systemic problem far beyond the Philippines.)
There are spotty reports of retailers — particularly food and fuel retailers — choosing not to re-stock or reopen due to concern over looting and other security problems. There have been confirmed reports of some looting, but the scope and scale is difficult to discern. Did actual looting create a response and recovery problem, or did the fear of possible looting repress supply chain resilience, or was the looting that occurred the outcome of a delay prompted by concern about looting? What is cause and what is effect can be easy to confuse.
Medical supplies were quickly exhausted by a dramatic spike in demand and the absence of a proportional re-supply surge. It is my impression (what little it’s worth) that medical supplies originate in the Manila metro area and were not moving until assurance of open roads and reasonable security south of Matnog.
There are very mixed — even contradictory — reports related to the availability of fuel. But whatever the available stock, it is clear that distribution of fuel was a problem over the first week. The distinction between supply and distribution is crucial and too often neglected. For some reason public sector folks seem to automatically assume supply is the problem (or simply don’t understand the distribution function).
The most mysterious aspect of what I have been (un)able to access relates to trucking. The Philippine Minister of the Interior, quarterbacking the relief operation in Tacloban, told NPR that he had sixteen trucks to supply all of Leyte province. One OCHA report highlighted twenty army trucks finally making it to Tacloban seven days after landfall. Where did all the trucks go?
In terms of supply chain resilience, in the typhoon’s aftermath there were — and are — obvious physics problems: destruction of infrastructure, impassable debris, disrupted demand signals, diminished local distribution capabilities (caused by deaths of wholesalers/retailers and destruction of facilities). There were also psycho-social problems: grief, confusion, fear…
With the exception of clean water — certainly a crucial exception — I cannot find compelling evidence of a serious problem with actual sources of supply. In other words throughout the crisis there has been sufficient strategic capacity to provide the necessary life-sustaining resources. But there has been a period of several days when connections were lost between that strategic capacity and the local capability to distribute and receive.
As noted above, I don’t feel certain of anything here. But I hope by making these impressions explicit I will attract more accurate information.
I will pay a reward to the person that tells me what happened to the trucks.
SATURDAY UPDATE ON TRUCKS
From a Philippines television news outlet, reporting on a private-public supply chain summit held earlier today (Saturday):
Their initiative came amid reports of a logjam in relief distribution, with hundreds of trucks and other vehicles bearing relief goods stranded for days at Matnog port in Sorsogon, as there are not enough ferries to bring them across the sea to Allen town in Samar, from where they can go to Leyte and Samar areas devastated by the super typhoon.
This still doesn’t explain where the local trucks have gone, but this is certainly a big part of the problem. Further, the entire piece (HERE) is an interesting read. There are also sidebar stories on fuel distribution and other related issues.
According to several reports the municipal water system in Tacloban is again operating at or near full capacity. Current operations are even characterized as “normal.”
A story in the Inquirer, a Philippine daily, includes:
Dump trucks, payloaders, graders and other road-clearing equipment belonging to private contractors outnumber those deployed by the government in areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
I wonder if prior reports have only focused on “official” trucks. In any case, there are several reports of trucks being transferred from Manila, Cebu and other locations to assist with resupply in the hardest areas.
(In the United States it is common for major trucking firms to “evacuate” their fleets out of harm’s way in advance of a notice-event, and even to pre-stage for response and recovery. I cannot tell if anything similar was done in the Philippines.)
The back-up at Matnog continues (see above). Below is a photograph of the four-to-five mile long line of trucks waiting to access one of the roll-on-roll-off ferries heading south into the impact zone.
EARLY MONDAY UPDATE
On Sunday the Philippine military deployed Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) at Matnog and another smaller port between Luzon and Samar. This has begun to reduce the bottleneck of supplies.
Emergency food packets, bulk rice distribution, and water have been the principal commodities distributed in the first week since the typhoon. On Monday the Philippine Secretary of Agriculture announced several measures to jump-start (replace? complement? compete with?) the regular food supply chain:
The DA (Department of Agriculture) chief also instructed concerned agency officials to immediately transport frozen chicken, potatoes and other vegetables from Manila and Baguio to Tacloban using three refrigerated vans from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Three more vans, from the Philippine Fisheries and Development Authority will load and deliver food items from Albay in Region V to Tacloban and neighboring areas.
“We will be also utilizing all available closed vans of the Department and its attached agencies to deliver eggs and other dry food items,” Alcala said.
The DA chief has also instructed BFAR Director Asis Perez to deploy a 1,200-tonner vessel, currently anchored in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), to deliver food items to the Region. Smaller ships will ferry food items to smaller islands.
The Department is set to implement market mechanisms to move food items from the production areas to affected communities via the Barangay Food Terminal and local government food trading centers. Functional food warehouses will also be utilized for food stocking.
“We will engage big market players such as the San Miguel Corporation in CDO to supply poultry products to affected areas,” Alcala said.
The National Food Authority in Region VII will begin to supply rice to parts of the region in an effort to augment rice stocks in areas severely damaged by the super typhoon.
Robinson’s Retail, the Philippines second largest grocer, has over fifty retail outlets in the area most impacted by the Typhoon. Except for their main supermarket in central Tacloban, all were able to reopen on November 9.
As of Monday morning roughly 65% of retail gasoline stations in the impact area have reopened. There is no indication of a fuel supply problem, but distribution remains uneven.
Restoration of wireless communications ranges from roughly 60 percent to over 90 percent in the impact areas. On Leyte and Samar islands about 75 percent of pre-typhoon service has been restored.
The electrical grid remains offline in Leyte, Samar, and nearby. On the periphery of the typhoon’s main path brown-outs are being used to manage load. Generation capacity was reduced by storm damage, so even where transmission and distribution networks are in place power is a problem. With a 1,077 megawatt capacity and a demand of 1,012 megawatts, there is no regulating reserve. Restoration of the electrical grid to something close to pre-typhoon capacity is anticipated by late December, but in some areas full restoration may take up to six months.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 UPDATE
Just to bring this consideration to a sort of resolution:
First, it is now my judgment that plenty of trucks and fuel were available in the impact zone throughout this crisis. There was, however, essentially no coordination — or really attempt to collaborate — between private and public networks. The public sector did not seriously endeavor to engage private sources. Private sources have been responding to social needs, but in mostly spontaneous ways that neither official or media decision-makers tend to recognize as substantive. (An analogy to Euclidean and Non-Euclidean geometry comes to mind… and to be explicit, both are real.)
Second and closely related to this non-Euclidean reality, there is now increasing evidence of the resilience of this complex, self-organizing system of private initiative and resources. Please see a report from the Straits Times of Singapore.
We do not give enough attention to this other reality. Too often official action unintentionally suppresses this crucial source of resilience.
But third — official action is also crucial — especially in opening the space needed by the unofficial to operate. This is the strategic implication of the following success story. From the Inquirer:
Matnog, Sorsogon — The line of relief trucks and passenger buses going to typhoon-ravaged Samar island has eased at Matnog port in Sorsogon, after the deployment of additional ships.
Jun Hilbero of the Philippine Ports Authority told INQUIRER.net on Wednesday that more ferries were assigned to the port and that another port in the nearby town of Bulan was also authorized to accommodate special trips to Samar.
“We have eight regular trips a day, which was augmented by another three vessels. And in Bulan there are mercenary trips…Our relief trucks were diverted there,” he said.
Hilbero, officer-in-charge of PPA Matnog, said additional ramps were also in place, allowing more vessels to load simultaneously.
He said that as of Wednesday morning, only 15 buses and 12 trucks were waiting at the Matnog port. Last week, reports said the line going to Matnog port was around four kilometers long.
Meanwhile, four ferries were deployed at Bulan port on Monday.
“Now we have enough ships…Actually in three to four days we expect operations to return to normal,” Hilbero said.
Among the vehicles waiting to board at Matnog port are trucks carrying gas, aluminum posts and other items to aid and rebuild communities hit by super typhoon “Yolanda.”