The first shipments of emergency aid have begun arriving in storm-wrecked regions of the Philippines, with relief agencies warning the extent of the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan has severely hampered the logistics of bringing vital shelter, water and food to the millions affected.
The Irish Government is to provide €1 million in emergency aid towards the relief effort. Tents, tarpaulins and blankets will also be donated and distributed through charity workers, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
Ireland’s Rapid Response Corps is on standby to provide expert help to UN agencies operating on the ground. The Irish Aid funding will be provided to non-governmental organisations and will be distributed on the basis of needs assessments by the UN, Red Cross and NGOs in the affected areas.
Irish Aid supplies
A total of 200 tarpaulins, 85 family tents, 10,000 blankets and other basic food and hygiene necessities are being made available from Irish Aid stocks, prepositioned in Dubai, and are due to reach the Philippines tomorrow.
British prime minister David Cameron announced £6 million (€7.2 million) in initial emergency aid, the EU promised €3 million and the US is flying in marines.
Aid groups said immediate relief efforts would have to be matched by longer-term aid planning to help those who had lost crops, fishing fleets and livelihoods during the near 322km/h (200mph) winds and six-metre storm surge.
The groups added that while they had some warning of the typhoon's approach, efforts to get assistance in place in advance had been hampered by the sheer ferocity of one of the strongest storms on record.
“In one town where we had made preparations, even the evacuation centre had to be evacuated, as the storm was so strong,” said Ian Bray of Oxfam.
Among the first of overseas assistance to arrive in the Philippines were 80 US marines from their base in Okinawa, southern Japan. They were flown in to help the Filipino army with relief logistics.
One significant challenge is that no one as yet knows the precise extent and location of all the devastation. There has been understandable focus on Tacloban, the main city on Leyte island, where up to 10,000 are feared dead. But there has been little word from other, more remote areas in the path of the storm, both on Leyte and also Samar island, to the northeast, and the northern tip of Cebu, to the west.
Mr Bray said Oxfam had a team elsewhere on Cebu, who had managed to make their way, with great difficulty, to the north. There, they estimated that 98 per cent of buildings had been damaged, and said children were holding signs, begging for food and water.
Likening the extent of destruction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Mr Bray said: “Getting up there was really difficult, because the roads are strewn with debris and wreckage. Getting to places for immediate response is going to be a big challenge for everyone, because of the level of destruction.”
There was more to think of beyond shelter, clean water and food, he added: "In the immediate aftermath people need these emergency requirements, but in the medium- to long-term people's crops will be affected, and things like fishing equipment. Though there's obviously a massive immediate need there will also be other needs as well, not just today but in the months to come."
Pete Garratt, disasters emergency manager for the British Red Cross, said: “Our team in Tacloban is saying that moving very far out of Tacloban, or even around parts of it, is hard enough. There’s debris, flooding damage and floodwater. There are concerns around the looting. People are desperate for supplies. There are [also] security concerns.”
He added: “It all makes the logistical element of relief supplies very tricky. We had a lot of stuff in Cebu, and more on its way to Cebu from Manila, and international freight coming in to Manila and Cebu. But it’s onwards from Cebu to the most affected areas that’s going to be the really tricky part of this.”
Mr Garrett said relief efforts following the typhoon, which is believed to have affected about four million people, would be possibly the biggest since the huge Pakistan floods of 2010, which left about a fifth of the country underwater.
– (Guardian service)