Philippines disaster lays bare country beset by challenges
The country has long been starved of money by corrupt and incompetent governments
Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport following Friday’s typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. Photograph: AP
Days after one of the most powerful storms to buffet the Philippines on record, the scale of the devastation and the desperation of the survivors are only slowly coming into view.
The living told stories of the dead or dying – the people swept away in a torrent of seawater, the corpses strewn haphazardly among the wreckage.
Photographs from the hard-hit city of Tacloban showed vast stretches of land swept clean of homes, and reports emerged of people who were desperate for food and water raiding aid convoys and stripping the shops that were left standing.
As yesterday dawned, it became increasingly clear that typhoon Haiyan had ravaged cities, towns and fishing villages when it played a deadly form of hopscotch across the islands of the central Philippines last Friday. By some estimates, at least 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban alone, and with phone service out across stretches of the far-flung archipelago, it was difficult to know if the storm was as deadly in more remote areas.
Barrelling across palm- fringed beaches and ploughing into frail homes with a force that by some estimates approached that of a tornado, Haiyan delivered a crippling blow to this country’s midsection.
The culprit increasingly appeared to be a storm surge that was driven by those winds, which were believed to be among the strongest recorded in the Philippines, lifting a wall of water on to the land as they struck. By some accounts, the winds raged ashore at 306km/h (190mph).
As aid crews struggled to reach ravaged areas, the storm appeared to lay bare some of the perennial woes of the Philippines. The country’s roads and airports, long starved of money by corrupt and incompetent governments, are some of the worst in southeast Asia and often make travelling long distances a trial in the best of times. Yesterday, clogged with debris from splintered buildings and shattered trees, the roads in the storm’s path were worse, slowing rescue teams.
The storm also posed new challenges for the president, Benigno Aquino, who just two months ago struggled to wrest back a major city in the south from insurgents.
Aquino has won plaudits at home and abroad for his fight against corruption during his 3½ years in office, leading to increased foreign investment and an impressive growth rate, but he must still contend with Muslim separatists in the south and provinces that have long been the fiefdoms of regional strongmen and have been resistant to government control.
Looting and robberies
Now add to that list a storm that is threatening to be one of the country’s worst natural disasters, at a time when emergency funds have been depleted by other calamities, most notably an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 that struck the middle of the country four weeks ago. Yesterday, after the reports of widespread raiding of shops and robberies and rising fears of a breakdown of law and order, the government said it was flying more police to the central Philippines.