The desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of people in Philippines left me speechless. I can’t comment on other news. My thoughts are focused in those islands full of people desperate without food and water, homeless, trapped in places covered by ruins, debris and corpses. The images speak by themselves. Natural disasters hit mercilessly and there is no answer to the why question. Besides, there is no time for questions. Now is time for action. Now is time for the rest of the world to show solidarity and fast.
The UN appealed for 301 million dollars to provide humanitarian assistance to typhoon hit regions of the Philippines where aid workers are labouring around the clock to get in urgently needed survival supplies, such as food, clean water, shelter and basic medicines. Let’s see the answer.
“The appeal of $301 million covers an initial period of six months,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesperson, Jens Laerke, in Geneva. “The humanitarian community continues to scale up its operations to provide lifesaving aid. Many areas do remain inaccessible, we are reaching into them little by little,” said the UN in its website.
More than 11 million people have been affected by what the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has called the strongest tropical cyclone so far this year and one of the most intense on record.
At least 670,000 people have been displaced, the majority of them in evacuation centres, the rest in host communities or makeshift shelters, according to OCHA.
“Water supply and power are cut. Much of the food stocks and other goods are destroyed. Many health facilities are not functioning and medical supplies are quickly being exhausted,” the UN humanitarian relief arm said in its latest action plan update.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Government to set up field hospitals, as personnel and medical supplies are arriving in the country.
The health needs during the disaster are “significant”, the agency said, made worse by crowded living conditions and contaminated drinking water which can lead to the spread of infectious diseases.
“With another tropical storm expected to hit the Philippines later this week, the need for safe water and sanitation facilities is critical,” WHO said.
Other relief agencies report that transport logistics remains the biggest challenge due to the widespread damage to infrastructure and the large amount of debris blocking airports, roads and other access routes. Electric lines have been cut and, in some places, heavy ships have been thrown inland.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said wrecked infrastructure is making humanitarian efforts a “logistics nightmare.” The agency has asked for $83 million for logistics, food and emergency telecommunications equipment.
Forty-four metric tons of High Energy Biscuits (HEBs) are due to arrive in-country today from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in Dubai, with additional biscuits and rice being mobilized from the region.
The hampered humanitarian access is also “contributing to a breakdown in law and order as some desperate people loot shops for food and water,” said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards said, briefing the press from Geneva.
There are also reports from Government partners and others of growing tensions and trauma on the ground, he added, with unconfirmed reports of people destroying bank teller machines and robbing relief supplies.
“Women and children are begging on the streets for donations, exposing themselves to abuse and exploitation,” Mr. Edwards said.
With power lines still down, UNHCR plans to distribute solar-powered lanterns to mitigate the risks of gender-based violence and enhance the protection of displaced families.
A first UNHCR airlift is scheduled for Wednesday from Dubai to the Philippine island of Cebu, bringing tents and other non-food help. The refugee agency has also deployed an emergency team to the Philippines, including protection specialists.
“We are looking also for funding for deployment of emergency radio in a box because mass media in the areas is simply not functioning,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesperson, Jens Laerke said, adding that OCHA planned to distribute at least 1,000 wind-up radios to help with communication on the ground.
“Once we know that people have the bottom line survival means, we move on into the next phase. And the next phase is trying to ensure that the consequences for children of this disaster can be minimized,” said Christopher de Bono, Regional Chief of Communication at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Children are the most vulnerable people when natural disasters hit. Children are going to be traumatized. They are going to have been separated from their parents. It’s a real battle,” he added.
Mr. de Bono also related the observations of Nonoy, a UNICEF colleague in Tacloban City, who described people walking aimlessly along roads, “I don’t know where they are going – there is nowhere to go. They are walking because their homes are gone and they have nowhere to go.”
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is working with the Government, businesses and workers in the Philippines to launch an emergency employment programme to help the estimated three million people who have lost their livelihoods in the wake of the devastation.
“The loss of life and the scale of the destruction are heart-breaking, and there are millions of people in desperate conditions,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “They need food, water, shelter, medical care – and they need to start rebuilding their lives right away.”
The ILO is helping put in place emergency employment and ‘cash-for-work’ programmes as part of the relief appeal launched today.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has also begun to support the Government in the reconstruction process in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors with a $1 million of its resources to cover immediate needs such as seeds and fertilizers, its Director-General José Graziano da Silva today said.
The typhoon hit just at the beginning of the main rice-planting season, and FAO estimates that over one million farmers have been affected and hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice destroyed.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
World Food Programme