Govt slow response hit

CNN describes relief efforts ‘disorganized’

INTERNATIONAL media on Wednesday slammed the government’s slowness in aiding victims of super typhoon Yolanda, which pulverized provinces in the Visayas five days ago, prompting an admission by President Benigno Aquino III that they have not been as quick to react as they were in previous disasters.

“It’s a miserable, miserable situation here,” said CNN’s Andersen Cooper, who reported from Tacloban City. “It is not getting better day by day... You would expect maybe a feeding center that has been set up five days after the storm. We haven’t seen that, certainly not in this area.”

Relief’s on the way. From left clockwise: Relief goods from the US sit next to a C-130 plane that will take them to Tacloban; members of the recently organized HelpLeyte.PH prepare relief goods to be sent to Leyte province; Indonesian Air Force personnel carry boxes of relief goods to a military plane that will depart Jakarta for Cebu; motorists are stranded as people walk along the Samar-Tacloban City Road to get relief goods in Tacloban City. AFP, Ey Acasio and Ver S. Noveno
His colleague, Paula Hancocks, added in her broadcast from Tacloban: “It is certainly not organized. It’s just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed.”

Both Cooper and Hancocks described how disorganized the government’s relief efforts were, prompting some hungry residents to turn to looting.

“It looks like the end of the world, for many here it was...The people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten,” Cooper said in his Twitter account.

“The search and rescue never materialized.. There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief.”

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan noted that “minimal amounts of aid have reached the worst-hit areas.”

“Desperation is growing in the areas hit by typhoon Haiyan (the international name of Yolanda), as heavy rains lash survivors facing a fifth day without food, water or basic medical supplies,” she wrote in her report for the London-based paper.

Cooper, for his part, compared the response of the Japanese government during the earthquake in Fukushima.

“When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation,” Cooper said.

The international group Doctors Without Borders described the situation as “total chaos.”

“The situation is catastrophic... Access is extremely difficult and is preventing people from receiving help,” Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator in the Philippines Natasha Reyes said.

At the damaged Tacloban airport, thousands of people jostled and begged for seats Wednesday on scarce flights out of the flattened city as anger at the slow pace of aid turned deadly.

News emerged that eight people were crushed to death Tuesday when a huge crowd of survivors from Yolanda rushed a government rice store in Alangalang town, 17 kilometers from Tacloban.

“One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly” in Tuesday’s incident, said Rex Estoperez, spokesman for the National Food Authority.

Five days after Yolanda -- one of the strongest storms ever – ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Tacloban was becoming ever more dire with essential supplies low and increasingly desperate survivors clamoring to leave.

“Everyone is panicking,” Capt. Emily Chang, a Navy doctor, said.

“They say there is no food, no water. They want to get of here,” she added, saying doctors at the airport had run out of medicine, including antibiotics.

“We are examining everyone but there’s little we can do until more medical supplies arrive.”

After meeting his Cabinet Wednesday, President Aquino promised “one of the largest logistic and relief operations” in Philippine history, said Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.

Almendras said part of the plan was to set up Cebu as a centralized hub for incoming aid, with teams from the Bureau of Immigration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Professional Regulatory Commission to oversee the processing of international relief workers, doctors and nurses who are flying in to help.

Almendras admitted authorities had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of deaths.

“The reason the body recovery stopped is because we ran out of body bags,” he said. “But we now have 4,000 bags. I am not saying the casualties are 4,000. We are making sure there is an oversupply.”

Mr. Aquino said 2013 has been “an exceptionally bad year” for the Philippines in terms of disasters, and except for the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda, the government has been effective in delivering relief.

The President said the delivery of aid was hampered by the decimation of local government units.

“Our ability to take care of our problems rather quickly, except in this particular case, the foundation of our efforts rely on the local government units. And unfortunately, two or three were just simply overwhelmed by the degree of this typhoon that affected us,” the President said.

“The problem is when the local government unit who are acting as first responders fail to respond appropriately, then there was that breakdown. People became desperate and that’s why we are trying to fast-track the situation where the national government takes over these local government functions so that order is restored and people gain the confidence that their needs are being addressed and will be addressed fully.”

“But other than that, in the other areas, there was preemptive evacuation and cooperation from the citizenry, which brought down the casualty figures from the other areas affected, except for this corridor in the Leyte and two Samar provinces,” he added.

Mr. Aquino explained that damaged power and communication lines, along with impassable roads, have also prevented authorities from giving immediate succor to the displaced residents.

“Today all of the national roads, I understand, have already been re-opened. We’re already working on the secondary roads, and most of the airports are almost back to normal operating levels,” the President said.

“Still, the sheer number of people that were affected in these three provinces is quite daunting,” he added.

Aquino played down earlier projections that the deaths could reach up to 10,000.

“Ten thousand, I think, is too much. And perhaps that was also brought about by being in the center of the destruction. There was emotional trauma involved with that particular estimate, quoting both a police official and a local government official. They were too close to the incident. They did not have basis for it,” he said.

“So far, 2,000 to about 2,500 is the figure we are working on as far as deaths are concerned. But this might still get higher,” Aquino added.

The President said the casualty count has yet to be established in about 29 municipalities.

In a separate interview, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras admitted that the government cannot yet give a target date as to when all survivors will be able to receive aid.

“I would like to give you a date and a time if possible, but it is not within the national government’s control as to how effectively we can hit the ground. There are places which are very remote, which we need to know also so that we can reach them,” Almendras said.

Almendras said he also received a text message that some relief did not reach the residents because of “political considerations.”

But he quickly added that it was an unverified report. “I am not saying it is confirmed. (But if it is), this is a great disservice to the people.”

Despite the growing criticism of the slow response, the President expressed confidence that life would soon return to normalcy in the affected areas.

“The well of strength and compassion that characterizes us as a nation has time and again proven to be bottomless. Solidarity born of faith and prayer, combined with a steadfast resolve, is showing the world that nothing can make the Filipino spirit yield,” he said.

“The Almighty has granted us the resilience to withstand such tragedies, secure in our belief that God will continue to guide us as we provide care for our countrymen, rebuild our nation, and prepare for the future,” the President added.

But at the airport, journalists from the Agence France-Presse agency witnessed exhausted and famished survivors pushing and shoving each other to get on one of the few flights out of the city.

“We have been here for three days and we still cannot get to fly out,” said a frail Angeline Conchas, who was waiting for space on a plane with her 7-year-old daughter Rogiel Ann.

Her family were trapped on the second floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

“We made it out, but now we may die from hunger.”

The UN estimates more than 11.3 million people have been affected with 673,000 made homeless, since Yolanda smashed into the nation’s central islands on Friday.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones. With AFP


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