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Relief struggles to reach survivors

15 November 2013


A region devastated:houses near the sea in Tacloban, central Philippines, destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan as it tore through the area last Friday

A region devastated:houses near the sea in Tacloban, central Philippines, destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan as it tore through the area last Friday

AID agencies are mounting a "massive response", as the scale of the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines becomes clear. But essential supplies to survivors of the storm have been slow to reach the worst-affected areas, despite the array of organisations working in the region.

The confirmed death toll now stands at 2275, but some officials are warning that up to 10,000 people may have died when the typhoon tore through the central Philippines last Friday.

The charity World Vision said in a statement that it was aiming to provide life-saving essentials to 1.2 million people in the aftermath of the storm, which some are calling the most powerful ever to ever hit land.

But Liz Satow, from World Vision, told the BBC that she had heard increasing reports of aid convoys being attacked by starving Filipinos, who were frantically looking for food. "Desperate people behave in desperate ways and it's easy to underestimate the desperation people feel when they don't have enough food and water."

She also said that the heavy rain and wind have destroyed much of the Philippines' infrastructure and communications, which also made delivering aid very difficult.

Eight people were killed in the town of Alangalang when a wall collapsed in a food warehouse, which was mobbed by survivors. Police and soldiers were unable to stop more than 100,000 sacks of rice being looted from the government facility.

A statement from World Vision said that many of its staff in the area were also victims of the typhoon, 37 of them suffering damage to their homes. One World Vision worker, Erna Tupaz, said: "The typhoon totally destroyed our house. We're living with neighbours now. I can't do anything but to cry."

Aaron Aspi, a World Vision emergency specialist, said: "It was like waking up from a nightmare."

Grace Baloro, a World Vision worker with family on the island of Leyte, which was badly hit by the storm, said: "I'm worrying about my two children. I don't have any contact with them yet. I left them with their nanny."

The British Government announced on Sunday that it would donate £6 million, which was later increased to £15 million, to provide "crucial humanitarian aid". The chairman of the Philippines Red Cross, Richard Gordon, told the BBC, however, that the situation was "absolute bedlam". "There's an awful lot of casualties, a lot of people dead all over the place, a lot of destruction. . . But hopefully it will turn out better, as more and more supplies get into the area."

The UN released $25 million of emergency funding to help humanitarian aid reach the affected areas quickly. Staff from the charity Samaritan's Purse arrived in the Philippines on Saturday, and Us (formerly USPG) also began an appeal to raise funds for the relief work of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. The UK's Disasters Emergency Committee said that more than £13 million was raised in the first 24 hours of its appeal.

Speaking last Friday, Alwynn Javier, a Christian Aid senior programme officer in Manila, said that the damage was likely to be colossal. "This is on a scale never been seen before. It has covered a vast area, including islands where the infrastructure was already limited. Air and seaports are closed, and power lines are down, cutting off entire provinces, and leaving many communities stranded."

Coree Steadman, regional emergency manager for Christian Aid, said that the charity had not been able to get in touch with its local partners because of the devastation caused by the storm.

She said: "It is not just the strength of the typhoon, but the scale of it - it has affected 15 provinces, two of which were also hit by the earthquake. Our priority now is responding to immediate needs - food, household items, blankets, and shelter materials. We will also be looking at the extent of the damage to livelihoods as part of our assessment. In the next few weeks, we will be able to respond for longer-term re-habitation."

The storm struck the central Philippine islands of Leyte and Samar, and northern parts of Cebu. A spokesman for World Vision said that the charity had been unable to contact staff in Tacloban City, which is on Leyte. The town has been flattened by the storm, and there are reports that bodies are piling up in the streets, as aid struggles to reach the area.

The charity said that it would be sending relief teams to the Visayas region, which was worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan, besides continuing its support of up to 7000 families affected by the earthquake last month.

The chief executive of Tearfund, Matthew Frost, asked the charity's supporters to pray for the relief effort in the Philippines. "As well as the urgent and practical things like helping people have a roof over their heads, we know that there will be a lot of grief as people come to terms with bereavement. We must pray for the thousands of people who are grieving and ask God how he wants each of us to respond to their needs.

"Please also pray for the churches who are sending teams out, many of whom will travel long distances by motorbike, that their teams would stay safe and well on their travels, and that they would be able to bring hope to the people they meet."

On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury sent a message of solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Archbishop Welby's statement read: "We are all deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of thousands of lives and of the suffering of millions as a result of Typhoon Haiyan.

"Our prayers are with all who have lost loved ones and all those who are traumatised by the disaster and in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical attention. I note that the relief work has already commenced and my prayer is that governments, agencies, churches and individuals will respond generously to help the people of the Philippines to recover and rebuild their shattered lives."

The Dean of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, the Very Revd John Mann, announced that £5000 from the cathedral's annual "Black Santa" Christmas charity appeal would be donated to aid agencies working in the Philippines.


Question of the week: Do you think that such extreme weather events as Typhoon Haiyan are caused by human activity?

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