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Asia

Chaos and violence threaten aid operations

Millions of people wait for help in the Philippines. They need water, food, medicine and shelter. Aid is coming in from around the world, but the aid workers face many difficulties.

"We need food!" "Save us!" Or just "Help!" The survivors of the typhoon are desperately calling for attention. They write their pleas on walls and on road surfaces, in such large letters that they can be spotted from the air. Five days after the storm, all the emergency provisions stored locally have been used up. The people urgently need clean drinking water and something to eat. Aid workers from all around the world do their best to get to the most affected areas with food, blankets, tablets for water purification and medicine.

But the journey is agonizingly slow due to the extent of the destruction and the extremely difficult terrain on the different islands. The international aid organizations have not yet reached all areas with their aid consignment. "We face great challenges regarding infrastructure and communication," said Soaade Messoudi, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Manila. In consultation with other sections of the Red Cross Movement - for example the Red Crescent - the ICRC is focusing on the island of Samar where the typhoon hit the coast on Friday (08.11.2013).

Remote regions not yet reached

epa03946220 A handout picture made available by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), shows volunteers helping in packing relief goods for typhoon-affected families in Manila, Philippines, 12 November 2013. International aid poured in for the Philippines as authorities stepped up efforts to reach survivors driven to looting after one of the world's strongest typhoons devastated their towns. A tropical depression brought heavy rains over the central and eastern Philippines, where provinces badly hit by Haiyan are located, raising concerns that relief operations would be hampered. EPA/PHILIPPINE RED CROSS HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Aid workers from around the world try to deliver humanitarian aid to the affected areas

In some regions the situation is even more desperate. Assessment teams have not yet reached the disaster areas on the western islands of Panay and Bantayan. The teams try to find out how many people are affected and how much humanitarian assistance is needed. Hanni Walter of Johanniter International Assistance says they can thus better coordinate the efforts of the different organizations: "Our teams try to reach regions which haven't yet had any help or which haven't yet been contacted."

But they've lost contact with their team in Panay. There's been silence since Monday. "The mobile phone is only working from time to time," Walter told Deutsche Welle. "I was told that there are areas where mobile phone contact is possible. We hope to re-establish contact in the next few hours."

Danger for the aid workers

Typhoon victims queue for free rice at a businessman's warehouse in Tacloban city, which was battered by Typhoon Haiyan, in central Philippines November 12, 2013. Rescue workers tried to reach towns and villages in the central Philippines on Tuesday that were cut off by the powerful typhoon, fearing the estimated death toll of 10,000 could jump sharply, as relief efforts intensified with the help of U.S. military. REUTERS/Erik De Castro (PHILIPPINES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT FOOD SOCIETY)

Looting and anarchy in the storm-hit regions threaten the aid operations

But even if the assessment teams are successful, it is still difficult to get the humanitarian aid through to the people who need it. The Red Cross sent eleven trucks to the heavily affected city of Tacloban, according to Messoudi. But now, as well the logistical difficulties the aid workers face, they are no confronted with another problem. With increasing hunger and thirst the population becomes more desperate and ready to use violence.

Messoudi confirms reports about the looting of supermarkets and shops. But it's worse than that: "We heard that the ICRC's trucks have been attacked," she said. There's no confirmation of that yet. Nevertheless she's increasingly worried about her colleagues in the field: "Yes, we are worried. As well as dealing with communication and infrastructure, we now have to try to guarantee the safety of our employees and that the humanitarian aid reaches the people without creating chaos."

Hanni Walter, Johanniter Unfallhilfe auf Mindanao, Philippinen. Copyright: Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe e.V.

Walter has lost contact with the Johanniter team in Panay

Hanni Walter confirms that the security situation is tense. The Johanniter assessment team on Leyte Island is stuck there. "There's looting and anarchy," she says. "Safety cannot be guaranteed." They have to rely on the government to protect their staff: "When the government advises us against going to certain regions, we certainly stick to the government's advice."

Five days after the typhoon, Messoudi says the situation is still mostly unclear. It is far too early to estimate the number of victims. On other affected islands the situation is probably as serious as it is on Samar and Leyte: "We've heard from the island of Palawan that the north was hit extremely hard."

As the information about the disaster becomes more complete, it becomes clear just how devastating the disaster was. Delivering humanitarian aid increasingly becomes a race against time. Hunger, thirst and epidemics are likely to increase the number of victims well beyond those who were killed by the typhoon itself.

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