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Aid is on the way

Rodion Ebbighausen / gdNovember 10, 2013

The Philippines has been struck by one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, affecting millions of people and leaving thousands feared dead. International aid organizations are mounting a massive relief effort.

Survivors stand among debris and ruins of houses destroyed after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 10, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
Image: Reuters

On the evening following the typhoon, David Carden, gave his first assessment of the situation. The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Manila was notably stressed as he spoke to DW on the phone. "The government of the Philippines says more than nine million people have been affected by the typhoon. The country requires all available assistance, from water-processing units, to food and emergency shelters," he added.

The prevailing confusion coupled with difficult access to some of the worst affected areas poses the greatest challenge thus far, according to Carden. "We needed six hours just to cover the 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) between the airport in Tacloban and the city center." The coastal city of 220,000 inhabitants - located on the eastern Philippine island of Samar - is one of the areas worst hit by typhoon Haiyan. "We still lack access to some parts of the country, especially to those areas where the typhoon made landfall."

Several rescue workers have said the scale of the devastation caused by Haiyan reminded them of the 2004 tsunami, which severely affected the nations bordering the Indian Ocean.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday flattening complete villages and city districts. Debris blocked most of the streets on the typhoon's path. Communication lines were cut and power knocked out. Several businesses in Tacloban were looted and there have been media reports of people wandering about in search of food.

Relief efforts

Haiyan is one of the worst natural disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation in decades. "The Red Cross speaks of more than 1,200 deaths in Tacloban alone, but we expect many more," said Carden. The Filipino government expects the death toll to soar well over 10,000.

A Filipino woman walks by a ship washed ashore in the super typhoon devastated city of Tacloban, Leyte province, Philippines, 10 November 2013. (Photo: dpa)
The scale of devastation reminds rescue workers of the 2004 tsunamiImage: picture-alliance/dpa

G. Jeff Lamigo, an aid worker at World Vision Philippines, told DW that international assistance was on its way. Together with Caritas Philippines and Caritas USA, the humanitarian aid and development organization has sent 18,000 tarpaulins and one million water purification tablets to the hard-hit city of Cebu, he said.

Moreover, the European Commission has pledged three million euros ($4 million) to help with relief efforts and the US embassy said it would provide $100,000 for health, water and sanitation support. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and aid agencies say they are in urgent need of donations. A 24-member medical team from the International Search and Rescue organization (I.S.A.R.) is reportedly on its way to Manila.

Aid from Germany

Germany is also providing support. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pledged 500,000 euros in immediate humanitarian aid for typhoon victims. "Germany wants to help, Germany will help," he was quoted as saying. German President Joachim Gauck expressed his condolences to his Filipino counterpart Benigno Aquino, saying "It was with extraordinary dismay that I heard of the thousands of deaths and countless injured."

Nicolas Hefner, spokesperson for the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) told DW his agency would be sending a team to Manila to determine where and how the German government can help. The THW provides assistance in areas such as purifying drinking water, cleaning contaminated wells and providing emergency accommodation.

Two humanitarian workers looking at aid supplies
The first aid flight left Frankfurt airport alreadyImage: World Vision

However, it is essential to cooperate with the local authorities, if the emergency response is to succeed. "Filipino authorities are overseeing coordination efforts on the ground," Hefner told DW.

The expert explained that Manila had not been heavily impacted by the typhoon, a fact that has enabled local disaster management agencies to continue with their work. "Police and military units have also been sent to the disaster-hit areas, so there is no solo action," Hefner said, adding that it was extremely important to avoid political misunderstandings for the aid to be effective.

Next stop Vietnam

As emergency aid is being shipped to the Philippines, a much weaker Haiyan is expected to hit neighbouring Vietnam late Sunday, where authorities have reportedly evacuated some 600,000 people. "We are also monitoring Vietnam; but, our first priority is to deal with the disaster lying in front of us," said Hefner.