Slow aid flow to typhoon victims in Philippines

Slow aid flow to typhoon victims in Philippines

Planes, ships and trucks are rushing everything from generators, water-purifying kits and tents to food, water and medicine to the Philippines, but it is not soon enough for more than 600,000 hungry and thirsty people displaced by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

In disaster-stricken areas, desperation and hunger turned to anger as the people spent a fifth day without food and water.

At the airport in Tacloban, about 160km from Cebu, people fought and begged for seats on military planes daily.

More than 20 countries, including Singapore, have offered assistance to the Philippines. But aid groups said that while their relief supplies were packed and ready to go, delivering these to the tens of thousands who need them has proved a major hurdle.

The Singapore team from Touch Community Services International, for instance, arrived in Cebu city on Wednesday morning but found that there were no flights out to Tacloban.

There are very few commercial flights to Tacloban, and Philippine Air Force planes are overwhelmed by the amount of cargo and the number of evacuees who need to be flown out.

"The chief challenge now is to coordinate efforts so that relief goods reach all victims, especially those who need them most," Mr Shawn Lim, head of the four-man team sent by the non-profit group, told The Straits Times.

His team is exploring taking a ferry to Ormoc, about two hours away from Tacloban, and then getting to the city by land.

While foreign governments and aid groups struggled with logistics, local authorities struggled to maintain some semblance of order, including burying the dead.

A mass burial had to be called off after a convoy travelling to the grave site was halted by gunshots, news agency reports said.

"We had finished digging the mass burial site. We had the truck loaded with bodies... but there was some shooting," Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez told Agence France-Presse. "They could not proceed."

In Alangalang town, 17km from Tacloban, eight people were crushed to death by a wall on Tuesday when a mob stormed a government rice warehouse.

The situation remained so dire in stricken areas that an 8pm to 5am curfew was in place. With local authorities unable to cope, Mr Romualdez had even urged residents to flee to other cities, according to New York Times.

He also advised aid workers: "I'm asking those who come here, 'Please be self-sufficient, because there's nothing'," he said.

rdancel@sph.com.sg


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