Philippines: ‘Where is the food?’

13th Nov 2013

[Photo taken on Nov. 12 shows a street view of the aftermath of typhoon “Haiyan” in Leyte Province. The official death toll  has been lowered to 1,774 by Monday night (Xinhua/Lui Siu Wai)]


TYPHOON Yolanda’s victims are slowly getting over their shock and disbelief at the enormous calamity that befell them, but they are beginning to get mad and desperate as they continue to wait for badly needed aid, particularly food and water.

Four days after a monster typhoon turned many towns into wastelands, thousands of people claim that they have not received help from government. Bodies of victims lying on roads have not been picked up, raising fears that those who survived the typhoon and gigantic storm surge may be felled by hunger or disease.

Hundreds of people camped out at the Tacloban airport, hoping to catch a flight out of the city which is fast running out of food and clean water.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide desperately needed food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.

“There is nothing here left for us. Our house is gone, we don’t have any money, we don’t have our documents, passports, school records,” Carol Mampas, 48, told Agence France-Presse at Tacloban’s destroyed airport as she cradled her feverish baby son in a blanket.

“Please, please, tell authorities to help us. Where is the food, where is the water? Where are the military collecting the dead?”

Heavy rain overnight in Tacloban compounded the survivors’ desperation, while a tropical storm to the south threatened other typhoon-hit islands where hundreds of other people were also killed.

While donations in cash and in kind continue to pour for the typhoon victims, the government is finding it difficult to bring relief to people in various communities.

AFP journalists in Tacloban described the city as a “ghost town”, with bodies still lying on the streets and those shops that were not destroyed boarded up.

Piles of debris, including wrecked homes and toppled trees, meant little food and medicine got through to survivors in the early days.

“That is why they were desperate and hungry,” hotel owner Kenneth Uy said, describing the immediate aftermath of the storm as “a descent into chaos”.

Police have said that some local councilors led the looting of shops to provide food to constituents.

To add to the distribution problems, armed insurgents attacked an aid convoy en route to Tacloban City.

The official government death toll stands at 1,774, although authorities have admitted they have not come close to accurately assessing the number of bodies lying amid the rubble or swept out to sea.

The advance US Marines expressed shock at the scale of the disaster after getting a bird’s eye view flying into Tacloban aboard C-130 transport aircraft full of relief supplies.

“Roads are impassable, trees are all down, posts are down, power is down . . . I am not sure how else to describe this destruction,” Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, the commanding general of the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, told reporters.

As thousands of people whose homes were destroyed by one of the most powerful typhoons on record spent yet another day in misery, troops established checkpoints to try to restore order and allow much-needed aid to percolate through.

In the city itself, a curfew was in force as armored vehicles and elite security forces patrolled streets where famished survivors had raided stores and ransacked other aid convoys.

Tacloban—a city of 220,000 residents—has been the scene of the worst pillaging. Survivors reported gangs stealing consumer goods including televisions and washing machines from small businesses.

Chief Superintendent Carmelo Valmoria told AFP that 500 of his Special Action Forces troops were in place.

“When we arrived here, there was looting everywhere in the city. We have come to restore order and ensure the public safety,” Valmoria said.

“We have been conducting checkpoints around the city everywhere and every night to prevent those who have no business (here) from coming in.”

Some have resorted to theft, with a charity saying that in one case a man with a machete tried to rob aid workers who were receiving a delivery of medicine.

It is not clear where newly homeless residents are meant to go during this period.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said that the public works department had cleared at least one lane of a highway entering the city, which would speed up entry of supplies.

He said the government’s three main priorities were to restore peace and order, bring in relief goods and start collecting dead bodies.

“Now that we have achieved number one and two, the priority is the recovery of the cadavers,” he said.

Appeal for help The United Nations on Tuesday launched a $301 million flash appeal for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

According to the United Nations Action Plan, some 11.3 million people were affected in at least 36 provinces while 673,000 were displaced.

Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency, said that the “needs are huge” in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“The Philippines has seen so many crisis but in all accounts, this is the most deadly and destructive,” she said during the launch of the “Philippines: Haiyan Action Plan.”

The needs identified in the Action Plan are just the initial ones produced by the assessment made by the agency. Amos said the amount needed to rehabilitate the areas affected may multiply in the coming days.

“What we have done is to make an assessment of what the immediate needs are. I understand the assistance is coming in bilaterally . . . “ Amos said.

“In a few days, this is where we will act. Scaling up our efforts is the thing that is most crucial right now,” she added.

In its Action Plan, the UN identified the country’s emerging needs: the immediate priorities are food, water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter, medicine, debris clearing and logistics.

Assessments in the ground also revealed that the “most immediate threats to life” are the lack of safe drinking water, lack of shelter, trauma injuries, other acute medical conditions such as contagious diseases, disruption of treatment for severe acute malnutrition and for severe chronic disease, lack of sufficient food, lack of access to sanitation and personal hygiene items and lack of household items and supplies like fuel.

To enable “fast action” to address these issues, the UN identified key capabilities needed such as air and sea transport of relief goods and personnel, emergency telecommunication, temporary electrical power and fuel and debris removal.

The following shows the breakdown of the $301 million initially needed for the victims of the typhoon: $46 million for emergency shelter, $20 million for early recovery, $22 million for water, sanitation and hygiene, $25 million for education, $76 million for food security, $21.5 million for health, $12 million for child protection, gender-based violence, $5.5 million camp coordination and camp management, $7 million for nutrition, $31 million for livelihoods, $24 million for agriculture, $3 million for coordination and $4 million for emergency telecommunications.

Many other countries have pledged help.

The UN children’s fund Unicef said a cargo plane carrying 60 tons of aid including shelters and medicine would arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday, to be followed by deliveries of water purification and sanitation equipment.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, was also organizing an airlift carrying aid including hygiene kits.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement also launched a global appeal for 87 million Swiss francs ($94.6 million) to assist the estimated 10 million people affected by the world’s strongest typhoon.

“It is a scene of utter devastation,” said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon. “Many people have lost their homes, and are in desperate need of food, shelter and water. It will be a long road to recovery.”

The emergency appeal aims to assist the Philippine Red Cross to deliver essential relief to thousands of affected families. Within the overall appeal, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is appealing for 72 million Swiss francs to provide 100,000 families with food, clean water, shelter and other essential relief over a period of 18 months.

“Help must reach those in need as soon as possible,” said Jagan Chapagain, IFRC director for Asia Pacific. “The added advantage of the Philippine Red Cross is our vast network on the ground, coupled with strong support from all our Movement partners globally, which enable us to reach the most remote communities quickly.”

HSBC Philippines also donated over $1 million as it activated a bankwide relief and donations drive to provide aid to Yolanda victims and their families.

HSBC Group Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver on Tuesday announced an immediate release of cash assistance worth $1 million from the HSBC Group. HSBC Philippines is giving $23,000 from its local funds, while funds are also being raised by HSBC employees globally. Already, other parts of the HSBC Group have collected donations of over $60,000 in the past two days.

“We are deeply saddened by the devastation we have seen in the Philippines. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and we hope our donation and the efforts of our staff will go in some small way to making a difference to the communities that now urgently need help,” Gulliver said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines placed all flags in military camps at half-mast in sympathy with the typhoon victims.

Malacañang on Tuesday expressed its gratitude to the international community for the outpouring of support to the typhoon victims.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that at least 28 countries have pledged support for the ongoing relief efforts in the Philippines. Among the donors include Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Vietnam.

“The solidarity shown by many countries means a lot to us. Certainly it gives us comfort that we are not alone in this fight to rehabilitate affected areas in providing relief goods. And therefore we are very thankful for countries that pledged assistance to us,” he said. “It lifts our spirits. We know that many countries are willing to help us. It’s a big consolation for us,” he added.



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