Philippines typhoon relief effort must broaden focus beyond main city – aid agencies

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 11 November 2013 12:32 GMT

An aerial view of a coastal town, devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan, in Samar province in central Philippines November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in six different areas, although the focus in the past few days has been on the catastrophe in Tacloban, believed to be the hardest-hit city

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The relief effort in the Philippines following a powerful typhoon that swept away villages and flattened homes must broaden its focus beyond the devastation in the main city of Tacloban, where most aid workers and journalists have assembled, aid agencies said.

Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed 70 to 80 percent of the area in its path as it tore through the central Philippine province of Leyte on Friday. Government figures on Monday showed 255 had died but a senior police official on Sunday said the storm might have killed at least 10,000 people.

"International attention is of course focused on Tacloban and the catastrophe there. However, there were many other areas that are affected,” said Mathias Eick, regional spokesperson for the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

"Philippines was not struck by one typhoon disaster. It was actually struck by six typhoon disasters because the typhoon touched six parts of the Philippines. There are six ongoing emergencies," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Manila.

On top of the mounting death toll, Haiyan – one of the worst natural disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation – has also affected close to 10 million people and displaced more than 600,000. These estimates are higher than on Sunday as information from remote locations has trickled in. 

Photos from affected areas show flattened buildings, overturned vehicles and coastal hills stripped of trees and topsoil. Entire villages have disappeared and few buildings remain standing.

"The needs are vast. We estimate that 2 to 3 million people have been badly, directly affected by the typhoon. These are people who has lost family members, who have no access to water or sanitation, who will struggle to find food for the next few days,” Eick added.

Aid agencies are trying to ramp up relief efforts but access remains a major challenge with debris blocking many roads.

The only cleared road is the 11-kilometre stretch connecting the damaged airport to Tacloban, according to the United Nations. Even then, it currently takes about six hours to do a roundtrip, said the U.N.


Julien Anseau, regional communications manager for ChildFund in Asia, warned the situation was getting desperate in Ormoc city, a coastal fishing and farming town also in Leyte province, as he urged relief groups and the media to look beyond Tacloban.

"The last time we spoke to our local partners in Ormoc was just before the typhoon made landfall and since then we haven't heard anything from them,” said Anseau, who was on his way to Ormoc where ChildFund has been running development projects for the past few years.

Local media says Ormoc is still isolated as roads are impassable.

“The reports that we're getting from Ormoc suggest people are getting desperate and there's looting,” added Anseau. “Because all the attention is on Tacloban, the military is there, but in Ormoc they're not getting any attention. So the situation is desperate,” he added.

Beyond providing food and water, ChildFund is concerned about the storm’s impact on children, Anseau said. The storm affected up to 4 million children, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

“We've been hearing about children on the streets who’ve lost their families, parents and loved ones. We need to get to those kids and provide psychological support,” he said.

Aid agencies are also struggling to find out accurate information about affected areas or coordinate with other relief workers because the storm destroyed means of communication in many areas, said ECHO’s Eick.

“For many regions in Leyte and other parts, we – the aid community and the government – have not been able to communicate with anybody. We have no idea what’s down there,” he said.

“In many areas, you have no electricity or water. The moment you don't have electricity you cannot run communication systems and people don't have running drinking water. These are the staggering lists of basic services that need to be restarted ASAP,” he added.


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