Typhoon relief effort picks up in Philippines

UN gives $25m in emergency aid while US and Britain send warships to help country in state of national calamity.

International relief efforts to help the Philippines overcome the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan are building momentum.

Foreign governments and international aid organisations have pledged tens of millions of dollars in emergency funds and supplies and several countries are sending warships.

Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, released $25m on Tuesday from the UN’s emergency relief fund to supply emergency shelter materials and household items, and provide emergency food assistance, health services, safe water supplies and sanitation facilities across the Philippines.

Amos told Al Jazeera she was not happy with the international response to the crisis.

“I don’t feel that they’re moving fast enough,” she said.

Officials figures put the total number of people killed by the storm that hit the Philippines’ central islands on Friday at 1,744.

However the UN says 10,000 people are feared dead in the city of Tacloban alone.

Another 800,000 people have had to flee their homes, and getting aid to people is proving extremely difficult.

In total, close to 10 million in 41 provinces have been affected by the disaster.

Both the US and Britain deployed warships on Tuesday carrying thousands of soldiers set to join a major operation to help survivors.

The Pentagon said the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, equipped with 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, left Hong Kong for the Philippines, where it will be joined by four other US navy ships.

It should arrive in two to three days and join 180 members of the US Marine Corps assisting in the humanitarian efforts on the ground.

“The weather is pretty bad out there, so we are limited by seas and wind,” Captain Thomas Disy, commander of the USS Antietam, a missile cruiser that is part of the carrier group, told reporters in Hong Kong.

“But we are going to be going as fast as we possibly can.”

The US has also pledged $20m in aid.

Britain boosted its aid to $16m and David Cameron, the prime minister, said the destroyer ship HMS Daring would sail to the Philippines “at full speed” from its current deployment in Singapore, along with a Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane.

Aid effort expands

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said the aid effort “must expand urgently in the days ahead”, while the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement appealed for nearly $95m to provide 100,000 families with food, water and shelter over 18 months.

The European Commission pledged $4m towards relief efforts.

The UN children’s fund UNICEF sent a cargo plane carrying 66 tonnes of aid, including water purification systems, storage equipment and sanitation supplies. Doctors without Borders said it was sending 329 tons of medical and relief supplies on three cargo planes.

As the international relief effort grows, many Philippines’ neighbours also offered assistance.

The Australian government pledged $10m in relief. Japan said it would supply $10m to provide evacuees with emergency shelters, and would also send up to 40 members of its de facto military, known as the Self-Defence Forces.

China, where seven people were reported killed by the typhoon, will give $100,000 towards the aid effort.

“It’s a must to aid typhoon victims in the Philippines,” the state-run Global Times newspaper, which is close to China’s ruling Communist party, said in an editorial on Tuesday.

Heartfelt thanks

The Philippine Red Cross issued a heartfelt thanks for the international support directed at the country.

But four days after the typhoon struck, survivors in several parts of the country are struggling to access aid.

Al Jazeera’s Marta Ortigas reported from an aid distribution centre in the capital, Manila, that poor infrastructure was making aid distribution difficult.

“Some of these goods end up sitting in another warehouse… and just waiting until it can be almost hand-delivered for hours to the villages that need it most. Making things a little more complicated is the fact that there is a storm over those central islands right now,” Ortigas reported.

The Philippines military said communication outages are making coordination with local government departments in hard-hit Tacloban – a city of 220,000 residents and the capital of the provincial island of Leyte – a major problem in the relief effort.

Very little food aid has reached Tacloban. At the city’s airport, people crowded the destroyed terminal building and shouted at soldiers. “We are hungry,” one man said.

Philippines authorities deployed armoured vehicles and set up checkpoints in Tacloban on Tuesday to stop desperate survivors from raiding food and medical supplies.

A curfew was in force in the city as armoured vehicles were deployed and hundreds of soldiers and police patrolled the streets.

The typhoon flattened buildings, knocked out electricity and water supplies, and left survivors with virtually nothing. Dead bodies still litter the city’s streets.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies