11 Nov 2013

Typhoon-hit Philippines declares national calamity

President Benigno Aquino declares a state of national calamity, as rescue workers in the Philippines struggle to reach remote towns and villages to provide aid to more than 600,000 people.

The Philippine military has been using helicopters to access remote parts of the archipelago, but difficulties remain as much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed.

Typhoon Haiyan is estimated to have destroyed 70 to 80 per cent of the structures in its path. Most of the damage and deaths were caused by huge waves that swept away coastal villages in scenes officials likened to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Alfred Romualdez, mayor of Tacloban City, where bodies have been piled at the sides of roads and homes have been turned into matchsticks, said aid workers were having trouble sending relief supplies into more remote areas because roads, airports and bridges have been destroyed or covered in wreckage.

The United Nations said officials in Tacloban had reported one mass grave of 300-500 bodies.

The Philippine army is also working to prevent looting, especially in Tacloban, with many survivors having lost everything they own, and are without food.

“The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total,” Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.

In a nationwide broadcast, Mr Aquino said the government was focusing relief and assistance efforts on Samar and Leyte provinces, which acted as “funnels for the storm surges”.

The declaration of a state of national calamity should quicken rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts.

It will also allow the government to use state funds for relief and rehabilitation and control prices. Mr Aquino said the government had set aside 18.7bn pesos ($432.97m for rehabilitation).

Aid agencies are also concerned about the spread of disease.

‘Rapid response’

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement on Sunday: “While many communities are very difficult to reach, with roads, airports and bridges destroyed or blocked with debris, agencies have begun airlifting food, health, shelter, medical and other life-saving supplies and have deployed specialist teams and vital logistics support.”

Unicef has estimated that four million children could be affected by the disaster. Meanwhile, the British government has begun implementing a £6m “rapid response” in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Typhoon Haiyan aid (Reuters)

Justine Greening, the international development secretary, said NHS experts have been flown in to Tacloban with shelter kits and water purification facilities.

She told ITV’s Daybreak: “We’ve partnered up with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) that over the next few days will start to get to grips with who is where, but as you can see it is a chaotic situation.

“The first thing is to get the logistic routes open so we can start go get those life-saving supplies to people. We need then to work on the ground to get some semblance of order and start to put families back together.”

Typhoon Haiyan has since made landfall in Vietnam and China, but has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. The wet weather it is brining still presents a risk of flooding and landslides.

A summary of the international response to the Typhoon Haiyan disaster is below:

Typhoon Haiyan - the international response

Australia has announced a $10m package including medical personnel and items such as tarpaulins, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, water containers and hygiene kits.

New Zealand will give NZ$2.15m in aid.

A 25-strong emergency medical relief team is being sent by Japan.

Indonesia will dispatch aircraft and logistical aid including drinking water, food, generators and medication.

A team of 90 United States marines has been sent, part of a first wave of US military assistance. The US Agency for International Development is sending emergency shelters and hygiene materials, as well as 55 tonnes of emergency food to feed 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for up to five days.

The European Commission has said it will send three million euros to help the worst-affected areas.

China will give $200,000 in cash in aid.

The International Rescue Committee, run by David Miliband, will dispatch an emergency team and has launched an appeal for $10m in aid.

Medecins Sans Frontieres is sending 200 tonnes of medical and relief supplies, and said it is strengthening its team in the area with an additional 30 medical personnel.

$1.3m of supplies including water purification tablets, soap, medical kits, tarpaulins and nutrient supplements are being airlifted into the Philippines by Unicef.

The World Food Programme is airlifting 40 tonnes of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and communications equipment.