The island of Mindanao has been worst-affected, with entire families wiped out and thousands of homes destroyed.
The United Nations has praised the government's decision to move thousands of people away from vulnerable areas ahead of the storm, saying the decision undoubtedly saved lives.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Carin van der Hor, country director, Plan International in the Philippines
VAN DER HOR: I have to warn you though that some of the things I might tell you may sound a little bit graphic, because the situation is truly gruesome. Ever since last Monday we already had teams on the fringes of the typhoon so that we were in a good position to move to the area as soon as the typhoon made landfall. So that means that my teams have been there to witness the devastation right after it happened, and like I just said the scenes are very gruesome. There's still a lot of bodies in the street, and although the Philippine government tries their best to make sure that those are processed quickly, the reality is that sometimes family members who can identify those bodies are also swept away. And in that case another process of identification needs to be followed. So that means that people are confronted with bodies in the street, and unfortunately and sadly some of those bodies are children's bodies, and that's of course heartbreaking and very difficult to deal with. Campostela Valley is the area that it seems to be hardest hit in Mindanao, and one of the reasons that it is so hard hit and it has taken so many victims is the level of preparedness in that area is still very low. These are areas that are normally not confronted with typhoons of this magnitude. In fact they don't get a lot of typhoons at all. So the level of preparedness is quite low and therefore you're looking at a higher number of victims.
EWART: So to a large extent the area that has been affected here, and I've seen quite similar to what you were saying there, that people said well we don't normally experience this kind of thing, we've never seen what's been described as a super typhoon, so I guess they wouldn't have been prepared necessarily?
VAN DER HOR: No, but it's a stark contrast with what's happening in western Mindanao. Remember last year we had Sendong and at that time Mindanao didn't see any of these kind of typhoons and flooding either. But that part of Mindanao had now been very well prepared, so they went way further than just some pre-emptive evacuation and notifying people, they actually had ropes in the street, they had boats, they had identified evacuation centres, not all necessarily schools. So you really see that a level of preparedness that is turned up a notch really helps saves lives. But it's unfair to expect that from this area because like you said, they haven't had any experience with it. Also I have to point out that this typhoon, people have been asking me "can you compare it to Sendong?" and that is very hard because it was a different kind of typhoon. But with this one, Pablo as we call it here, Bopha internationally, this one has dumped almost three times as much rain over the area. So the damage that it didn't do with the strong winds, it did do in rain and floods and flash floods and mudslides and landslides. So it's hard to compare. But I would say it is a disaster of equal or even worse magnitude of Sendong.
EWART: Certainly the picture that you have painted is plainly bad enough, but do you share the view that's been expressed by the UN that government attempts to move as many people as they could at least away from vulnerable areas has certainly had the impact of saving lives?
VAN DER HOR: I absolutely share that view, yes I do. It could have been much worse, and I think the most quoted statement that I've seen for myself, could have been much worse but it's still devastating.
EWART: And I guess as you pointed out, there are still days and weeks ahead of that very difficult work for the rescue teams and identifying the bodies and the like could take quite some time?
VAN DER HOR: Yes, yes, well we saw that in Sendong as well, where in fact Plan staff were already working on early recovery, cash for work and temporary schools. And while they were doing that, new bodies were still found every day. And this time it won't be any different. So in the days and weeks ahead we will see that new bodies will be found and will be washing up. Of course, the further they wash up and the later in the game, the more difficult it is to identify them.
EWART: So in terms of the human impact, I mean it's going to take obviously months if not years to fully recover in terms of rebuilding infrastructure and the like, but I guess in terms of the effect on the psyche of the people involved, this will last a lifetime for those who've survived?
VAN DER HOR: Yes, yes, we could already see that the scenes that we saw on TV in preparation for typhoon Pablo, where a journalist went in and talked to people in Mindanao who were really hard hit by Sendong last year, it was very hard to watch because people were so emotional and they were so traumatised still. And they said I can remember like it happened yesterday and it's like it's going to happen again. And last night I did an interview on BBC and there was this eyewitness who was there last year in Sendong and he said, the level of anxiety here in Iligan City, even though we were very much prepared, was everybody was psyched out, everybody was really, really scared. So this is something, this is a life-changing event. We see it in children for instance, children that were in Sendong and have survived, whenever it rains really hard they get anxious and scared. And fortunately teachers have been trained to deal with that and to help them process it. But it's a fact of life, you can't change that, it will take time to get over it, if you ever get over it at all.