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Battle to aid typhoon battered Philippines

Aid workers were this week still trying to reach remote islands and communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Emergency supplies and medical and relief teams were able to get into Manilla, Cebu and Tacloban,  the capital city of badly hit Leyte province, after Tacloban  airport runway was cleared last week. But aid agencies were still reporting extreme difficulty reaching remote areas.

Typhoon Haiyan swept across the central islands of the Philippines nearly two weeks ago leaving thousands dead and millions homeless and without food or water.

“At the moment the key needs are food, water and shelter. While it seems only about 5% of buildings have fully collapsed, around 90% of homes are now roofless and people are hungry and thirsty,” said Care International’s head of emergencies Colin Rogers.

“Getting assistance to people in rural areas is a huge issue for all of the aid agencies now on the ground.”

As NCE went to press, almost 4,000 people were confirmed dead, while 1,598 were still missing. Over 500,000 homes had been found to be damaged – 289,000 completely.

The United Nations (UN) is coordinating the work of the various aid agencies working in the Philippines. Communications have been a big problem. Aid teams are reporting a reliance on satellite phone connections in lieu of damaged telecoms and internet communication networks in the region.

“The focus of aid so far has been Tacloban where shipments have been arriving. We now have to ensure we get to areas that other agencies have not reached. This takes good coordination. It’s then a technical challenge to get to those places and ensure people get what they need. As we do this, we are looking at where to go next, coordinating with the UN teams to identify and fill gaps in the supply of aid,” said Rogers.

Speaking from Cebu City this week, Care International UK shelter and reconstruction advisor Gabriel Fernandez Del Pino said reconnaissance has shown the majority of roads are clear.

The big difficulty is getting food, building materials and tools to the many remote islands due to the huge demand on main ports and limited local availability of boats.

“This is presenting a coordination issue because it’s a very big area geographically with a lot of islands and communications cut in most places. The demand for materials is huge, but the Philippines government is responding well at a local and provincial level and the people have been incredibly resilient, rebuilding their homes already where they can,” Fernandez Del Pino said.

“We are now working to distribute food and shelter to islands out of Ormoc port and working hard to scale up operations with our partners. We need more human resources, but again it’s about demand. Everyone is looking to do the same.”

Care International currently has a team of 13 in the Philippines and a further nine aid workers are due to arrive from other regions this week. Aid efforts are being scaled up, but Fernandez Del Pino estimates it will still take three to six months to reach all communities affected.

Reconnaissance of the worst hit areas has been carried out by helicopters including that of the British Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring which was on exercise in the South China Sea when Typhoon Haiyan struck.

Relief supplies are being flown into Tacloban and Guiuan on the southern tip of Eastern Samar from the American carrier USS George Washington, part of a flotilla of US Navy ships.

HMS Daring, which has been ferrying supplies from Cebu City up to devastated areas to the north of the island of Cebu, was due to be relieved by the helicopter carrier and supply ship HMS Illustrious this week.

Aid is now starting to get through to affected communities, according to the UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which coordinates the work of 14 UK aid charities including Oxfam, the British Red Cross and Care International UK.

Two aircraft carrying emergency supplies left Stansted and East Midlands airports for the Philippines on Sunday and Monday.

The East Midlands flight took medical supplies and equipment including forklift trucks and water tanks. According to the Department for International Development, five UK government aid flights have now delivered to the Philippines and seven more are due to fly out from RAF Brize Norton with shelter and sanitation supplies and four wheel drive vehicles over the next few weeks.

The UK government announced a further £30M to help the UN and Red Cross aid effort at the weekend, adding to the £20M already pledged and the £35M raised so far by DEC’s Philippines Typhoon appeal.

“The kindness and generosity of the public has been overwhelming. The aid agencies represented by the DEC are extremely grateful for people’s continued compassion,” DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said.

“The needs are still enormous and growing day by day, but thanks to the donations we have received so far DEC agencies and their local partners are increasingly able to give desperately-needed supplies of food, clean water, medication, sanitation and temporary shelter materials to thousands of people in the worst affected areas.”

  • To make a donation to the DEC Philippines Typhoon Appeal visit www.dec.org.uk or call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900. A donation of £5 can be made by texting the word SUPPORT to 70000

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