Almost a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines, the provincial capital of Tacloban in Leyte is definitely the “ground zero” of the disaster — but not the only area where aid is desperately needed.
In some areas of northern Cebu, for instance, about 90 percent of all structures were severely damaged, making them uninhabitable.
More than 17,000 families have been displaced on Bantayan island alone, local and national government officials as well as the Red Cross told Devex in Cebu city.
Far-flung areas such as Bantayan are steadily receiving assistance, but are not being prioritized despite repeated calls by local officials for the national government and donors to also address their needs.
Tacloban, Leyte, suffered the storm surge that Cebu was lucky to avoid, but Haiyan brought torrential rain and winds of up to 120 kph that tore off roofs, destroyed entire buildings and uprooted so many trees that dozens of populations are now completely cut off by road.
The impression among the aid community in Cebu is that so much attention went to Leyte — which is receiving the brunt of local and international attention due to the huge death toll — that relief efforts on this island are being neglected.
On top of this, Cebu’s airport on Mactan island has been established as the logistics hub for the relief operation targeting Leyte, where other main cities such as Ormoc and many more smaller municipalities have been as badly damaged as Tacloban.
The airport is teeming with local and foreign aid workers scrambling to load aircraft and boats manned by U.S. and Australian military personnel with supplies for the typhoon victims not only in Leyte but also other affected provinces such as Capiz or Samar.
In the case of Eastern Samar, where the typhoon made landfall last Friday, supplies are being transported by road from the northern part of the island or by boat from Tacloban, resulting in heavy delays in the distribution of food, water and basic survival kits.
“Region VII [which includes Cebu] resources are being diverted to Region VIII [Leyte] to address the urgent situation there, but the international relief started reaching parts of northern Cebu on Wednesday,” a local official lamented, comparing the response in Leyte to the relief efforts in other provinces.
Authorities in Cebu — which in a span of just three months suffered a deadly ship collision that killed 40 people and a strong earthquake where more than 200 perished in the neighboring island of Bohol — are being truly challenged to cope with the aftermath of Haiyan.
“Our resources have been stretched as thin as possible,” a local disaster management official told Devex.
Authorities, however, are also benefiting in a way from the recent tragedies, especially in the case of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which sent a rapid response team to Bohol immediately after the quake.
The OCHA team that was already on the ground there has now been deployed to several typhoon-affected areas, mainly in Leyte but also in Cebu. Local officials said the extra resources and staff made available by the U.N. agency are facilitating the rapid response for typhoon survivors.
The United Nations on Tuesday issued an emergency appeal for $301 million in funding for disaster response, and so far about 14 percent has been met.
The relief operations are led by OCHA, which presently is the single largest bilateral aid donor to the post-typhoon Philippines with $25 million, according to the latest data posted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is currently visiting Tacloban to oversee the relief efforts coordinated by the agency.
Stay tuned for more special coverage of the Philippine post-typhoon aid response on the ground in the coming days.