Aid pours into storm-hit Philippines, but not enough

Victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, one of the hardest hit areas in the Philippines. Delivery of aid to affected areas is a major problem, as most major roads and highways were destroyed. Photo by: Praveen Agrawal / World Food Program

Three days after one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded wreaked havoc throughout the central Philippines, leaving countless dead and billions in damage, the international aid community has responded, rallying to provide aid to the helpless victims.

Multilateral organizations like the World Bank, the European Union, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.K.’s Department for International Development, to name a few, have committed different amounts of humanitarian assistance to the country. But, according to a local official of the country’s disaster mitigation agency, more help is needed.

“We have received a lot of relief goods now but many more are needed,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesman Major Reynaldo Balido told Devex.

The Philippine government and several local units of international aid groups have been at the forefront of relief efforts even before the onslaught of the killer super typhoon. Local units of international NGOs including the Red Cross, World Vision and UNICEF deployed staff on the ground since Friday, assessing the situation and distributing aid kits to survivors.

But aid supply problems have been a major issue in the operations following the successive crises that the country has been experiencing, including the Zamboanga conflict and the recent earthquake in Bohol and Cebu, making the call for aid even louder.

“We are expecting more [relief goods] to come in and more packs are being prepared in different areas to be delivered not only in Tacloban but also in other [affected] areas,” said Balido, adding that the extent of damage could be worse than projected as the agency itself doesn’t have a comprehensive assessment of the situation yet.

According to local reports, around 10,000 people are feared dead while thousands are still missing following the natural disaster. The devastation has been massive, with unimaginable effects. The province of Leyte is still cut off from the rest of the Philippines with majority of the areas unreachable and with no electricity or drinking water.

Delivery of aid has also proved to be a major problem, as most major roads and highways were destroyed after being battered by the massive tsunami-like waves that hit Leyte’s coastal towns. Haiyan’s winds were so strong not a tree was left standing in the whole province.

Desperation is fast becoming a norm in the area as food, water and medicine supplies are running out. With another typhoon fast approaching, the situation is turning from bad to worse.

Desperation

More than a week ago, the cities of Ormoc and Tacloban in Leyte were two of the crown jewels of Visayas region. In just a couple of days, they have become a wasteland.

After the onslaught of Haiyan, the roads became massive burial grounds. Dead bodies were lying in the street and every structure were laid to waste. Roads were impassable. The 2-hour land trip from Ormoc to Tacloban became an almost 8-hour pilgrimage with souls to pray for. It was a devastating scenario, according to a representative from World Vision.

“It was really heartbreaking to see people lying on the streets dead. Actually the people here don’t mind the dead as much,” narrated Maryann Zamora, a local World Vision communications specialist based in Cebu who took the treacherous journey to Tacloban to help. “The priority here now is food. Retrieving the bodies is actually the least of their priorities that’s why when you come here, you will see open mass graves along the road and even just outside the chapel.”

Zamora emphasized: “People here are trying to eat wet bread that they find in the streets. Imagine how dirty it is, but they don’t mind just so they can survive each meal. [They] need food, water and shelter immediately … We are appealing to those individuals to send help to those people here who are affected by the typhoon.”

The lack of food and water have been gnawing for days at people who had to endure the traumatic experience of the super typhoon, seeing their loved ones die in front of their eyes while trying to save themselves.

According to Zamora, despite desperation for food, some people are still wandering the streets looking for their family, not anymore hopeful that they find them alive but just to their bodies to bury afterwards.

The current situation in the area, noted Balido, has been close to “anarchy,” with peace and security a glaring issue on top of the logistical nightmare of delivering aid immediately to affected survivors.

“The relief operations is ongoing and then we are also working on restoring the communication lines,” he said. “We are also working on the restoration of law and order because there have been reports of looting and lawless activities in Tacloban.”

Damage

Other provinces in the central part of the Philippines have also been badly hit by Haiyan.

Although not as bad as the effects in Tacloban, the municipal town of Palompon in Leyte and of Nabas in Aklan also experienced property damage.

“Ninety percent of the houses and properties in our town in Palompon were damaged,” said Ramon Onate, mayor of Palompon. “The casualties in our town are in the far-flung area but communication and basic needs are very much needed here.”

“There were a lot of houses and agricultural products that were damaged [due to the typhoon],” added Romeo Dalisay, vice mayor of Nabas, just 15 minutes away from Boracay, the Philippines’ top tourist stop renowned for its pristine white sand beaches. “No power until now and some structures like our basketball courts were severely damaged.”

Aside from the aid committed by major multilateral organizations including the World Bank, U.K. DfID, European Union and USAID, a group of international NGOs have come together to pool a fund for relief operations for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Included in the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund set up by Global Impact are several iNGOs, including CARE, ChildFund, Oxfam America, Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision, to name a few. The fund is aimed at supporting the rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the affected communities.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.