- - Monday, November 25, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan — perhaps the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall — has shifted the international humanitarian-assistance machine into high gear.

On Nov. 22, I led a bipartisan fact-finding congressional delegation that included Reps. Al Green, Texas Democrat, and Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, and senior staff to the Philippines. We visited storm-ravaged areas, including Tacloban and Ormoc. In Manila, we visited government officials, church representatives and leaders of numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). I plan on chairing a hearing in early December to report on our findings and to hear from experts on the next steps.

The United Nations has issued a worldwide immediate appeal for $301 million — an amount that is likely to increase. Emergency shelter, food, water and medicine are being shipped in to meet the needs of the approximately 10 million victims, including at least 4 million who have been displaced.

The U.S. government has spent or pledged almost $50 million to help. As was the case after the devastating 2004 tsunami, America has deployed an aircraft carrier — this time, the USS George Washington — and other military assets to provide emergency assistance.

Catholic Relief Services alone has committed $20 million to “assist people’s immediate needs for survival, and their long-term support for full recovery.” Two Sundays ago, Catholic churches throughout the United States collected funds to aid the victims.

However, there are two post-storm dangers that must receive immediate attention as well: the threat of epidemics and rising levels of human trafficking.

In natural disasters such as a typhoon, epidemics are likely a result of contaminated water systems and the breakdown of medical services. Diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid fever, shigellosis, leptospirosis and polio are often seen. Crowded or other uncertain living conditions contribute to the kind of water contamination that breeds epidemics, and more than 707,000 houses were damaged or destroyed by this megastorm.

The specter of human trafficking requires serious integration of protection initiatives into both emergency relief and recovery efforts. This must be a very high priority. As the prime author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, America’s landmark anti-human-trafficking law, I am deeply concerned that vulnerable women and children are at risk of being victimized by traffickers, who prey on the utter desperation of people suddenly placed in life-and-death situations and take advantage of the ensuing post-storm chaos. We’ve all seen the television images of Filipinos begging desperately for help or looting to survive. Many are at risk, especially women and children.

According to the current State Department report on human trafficking, the Philippines is a Tier 2 country, meaning it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. It is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women and children caught in the web of sex trafficking and forced labor.

The 2013 State Department trafficking report cites an enhanced trafficking danger for Filipino children: “Child sex tourism remained a serious problem in the Philippines, with sex tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Increasingly, Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for Internet broadcast to paying foreign viewers. An NGO reported an increasing risk of boys becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.”

A robust zero-tolerance anti-human-trafficking initiative needs to be fully integrated into relief efforts.

As we endeavor to meet emergency needs, the world’s response to Typhoon Haiyan must include serious and sustained efforts to combat potential disease epidemics and the cruelty of sex trafficking. The arduous job of post-storm recovery requires no less of a commitment and resources over the longer term.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a New Jersey Republican, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ global health subcommittee.