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Disaster area 'like a war zone'

Publication Date : 20-12-2013


US Secretary of State John Kerry left the Philippines on Wednesday after visiting Tacloban City, of which he said: “This is a devastation unlike anything that I have ever seen at this scale.”

The devastation left by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” was “absolutely staggering,” Kerry said in the course of visiting a supply depot of the US Agency for International Development for the storm survivors.

"Entire communities levelled, water up to the second storey of the airport tower, and all of this covered in water,” he observed, adding: “It really looks like a war zone in every respect, and for a lot of people it is. You have to see this to really believe it and to feel it and understand it.”

According to Kerry, US President Barack Obama sent him to the Philippines to offer condolences and assure Filipinos of unstinting efforts in assisting the country, which is considered a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific.

A week after Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas and other parts of central Philippines on November 8, Obama said: “One of our core principles is when our friends are in trouble, America helps.”

In offering America’s condolences, Kerry did more than just offer comforting platitudes. Yolanda “broke the world’s heart,” he said, “but what is certain is that it didn’t break the spirit of the people here.”

The United States had mounted a massive humanitarian response in Eastern Visayas, sending millions of dollars worth of aid, dispatching an aircraft carrier group, and deploying some 1,000 Marines to help in the immediate relief effort. On Wednesday Kerry announced that the US government would provide additional humanitarian aid of about $25 million, “calculated to help ensure that the residents and the relief workers have immediate access to clean water, to sanitation, and to hygiene services, to make sure that they get the food and temporary shelter that are essential to being able to concentrate on their work.”

US aid came days before Philippine government officials and relief agencies could deliver a single relief pack to the stricken population, and while national and local officials were squabbling over the slow response of President Aquino’s administration to the desperate appeals of Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez for aid to his stricken city, which was almost entirely flattened by the typhoon.

Kerry toured Tacloban as President Aquino launched, in politically remote and insensitive Manila, a 360.9-billion-peso (US$8 billion) plan to rebuild the infrastructure and assist the millions of residents left homeless by Yolanda. The plan was launched a day after the nation marked the 40th day of mourning for the dead.

The President appealed for more foreign aid and private-sector pledges to rebuild devastated communities. “The immediate task before us lies in ensuring that the communities that rise again will do so stronger, better and more resilient than before,” he told foreign diplomats in a speech at the launch held at the Department of  Foreign Affairs. “We know that it will be more efficient to prioritise resilience now, rather than to keep rebuilding,” he said in reference to the Philippines’ lying on the path of Pacific storms.

Yolanda left more than 6,000 people dead and about 2,000 missing. The death toll rises as more bodies are recovered from the rubble, many of them already decomposed and unidentified.

Giant storm surges triggered by the typhoon’s ferocious winds destroyed 1.2 million homes and displaced some 4.4 million people in some of the country’s poorest regions, according to the recovery plan drafted by the National Economic and Development Authority.

Aquino assured the diplomats that “every dollar of funding assistance will be used in as efficient and lasting a manner as possible.” He said the damage wrought by Yolanda was “extensive”—estimated at $12.9 billion. He admitted that reconstruction would “not be easy,” and said this is the reason “recovery and reconstruction will be done in cumulative, overlapping phases to meet immediate needs, and to make the transition not just toward full [normality] but also to an improved state.”

By the first quarter of 2014, the need for humanitarian response would have been filled. From now until December 2014, according to the plan, the government will be preoccupied with critical, immediate investments, rebuilding, and the construction of temporary housing. Meanwhile, the President said, “larger investments will spread over multiple years, and [it is hoped] will be completed by 2017, if not earlier.” That’s assuming that he will not be deposed for the government’s slow response to the storm survivors’ demands for relief and reconstruction.

The Neda said that 90 per cent of the losses were in the private sector, that damage to property amounted to 424.3 billion pesos, and that lost income amounted to 146.8 billion pesos. It said funds for the reconstruction would come from internal government funds and loans from foreign institutions.

But there’s a limit to the people’s patience toward the government’s phlegmatic response to an economic emergency.

US$1 = 44.40 pesos


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