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Wanted: sardines, soap and sacks of rice

Few in the disaster-struck areas of the Philippines know when - or whether - aid will arrive. Hungry, thirsty, injured or sick, they stand outside in the hot sun. But aid trucks first have to navigate their ruined roads.

As the truck appears around the corner, cheers erupt on the former basketball court in Pindog, a small town in the north of Cebu Island. The people gathered here have been waiting patiently in the scorching sun, forming a line between torn-down basketball hoops. They've been hoping to get something to eat.

Now, each will receive a plastic bag with supplies. It contains two cans of sardines, a bar of soap, a bag of rice and two bottles of water. Those walking away with the bags say "Thank you" quietly. They are either returning home or to temporary refuge shelters.

Aid from private sources

These rations, however, are only enough to last one day - and it is not certain whether a truck with supplies will return again tomorrow. The people here are dependent on aid coming in from the southern part of the island. The truck that arrived today was organized by a group of wealthy families in Cebu City. The aid recipients are disappointed that, as yet, no help has come from the Philippine government.

The governor of the Cebu Province, Hilario Davide III, confirmed to DW that the situation is challenging. He reported that 14,000 families in northern Cebu alone are currently dependent on relief supplies.

"The food has been distributed, but not all have received it," Davide told DW. "That's the challenge now, because we're very short on trucks that can transport goods to these areas. But we're trying to address this."

A field hospital in Bogo City, Philippines (Photo: Peter Hille DW)

Ad-hoc field hospitals are dressing injuries and helping to stop the spread of disease

Driving north from Cebu City, the palm trees are increasingly broken and uprooted. Ravaged sugarcane plantations and destroyed houses come into view. Beside the road, some people are holding up signs that read, "Please help us."

Medical emergency

Relief supplies are arriving more quickly in larger towns. At the community center in Bogo City, home to 70,000 residents, five-kilo (11-pound) sacks of rice are lying in large stacks - some sent by the government, some from private donors and businesses. They are shielded from the rain by a tarp; the typhoon ripped the building's roof off. The rice is handed out at the town's market square.

But even with adequate food supplies, there is still the problem of untreated injuries and disease among the local population. Although Bogo City hospital withstood the typhoon with just a few broken windows, the influx of patients is enormous. Those still waiting for admission are standing outside in a line that exceeds 100 meters (328 feet) in length; the healthier ones are holding umbrellas over the weaker ones to shield them from the sun.

The Israeli army is helping out here with a field hospital. On Thursday (14.11.2013), the 148 soldiers involved put up tents on the lawn outside the hospital. According to Lieutenant Libby Weiss, the most urgent need is emergency aid.

"We're helping with leg injuries, broken bones, eye injuries from the storm," Weiss told DW. "We're not putting too much of a time limit on this. We want to be here in the field until we've done as much as we possibly can."

The Israeli lieutenant added that their supplies will hold for about two weeks. In the event they need to bring in more, he said, they'll bring in more aid as necessary.

Water delivery to the town of Malbago, Philippines (Photo: Peter Hille DW)

Locals wait in anticipation for every drinking water delivery

Urgent need for clean water

The trucks delivering water to villages in northern Cebu will probably also need to keep making rounds for a while yet. The trip takes three hours each direction. For some of the recipients, this is the first supply of fresh water since the disaster. They are pouring it into buckets, bottles and plastic containers - taking as much as they can physically carry.

At the moment, no system for purifying groundwater has been installed in northern Cebu. On Saturday, a team from Germany's Federal Agency for Technical Relief arrived in the region. Their aim is to set up a water treatment facility as quickly as possible. Such a facility will provide tens of thousands of Cebu's residents with clean drinking water.

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