The United Nations on Friday appealed for $46.8 million (S$57.8 million) in international aid for more than 380,000 people in Bohol province now living in tents after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Central Visayas last week.
Australia was the first to respond, announcing on Friday that it would provide up to P124 million in aid to support the Philippine government's response to the humanitarian emergency caused by the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu province.
The earthquake flattened homes, schools, clinics, centuries-old churches and other vital infrastructure, killing more than 200 persons.
A further 35,000 families need emergency shelter while more than 380,000 residents of Bohol require assistance for basic needs like water, sanitation, food and health services for six months, UN resident humanitarian coordinator Luizha Carvalho said.
"At this moment, the Philippines is the one [country] that really stands alone with the highest of needs and the highest requirements," Carvalho told a news conference.
Carvalho said she hoped donors would still give money despite a series of recent natural and man-made disasters that also required international assistance, such as a destructive typhoon in December last year and Moro rebel attacks that destroyed parts of the southern city of Zamboanga last month.
"We have a very interesting pattern of several events that are happening almost simultaneously and we still hope for the generosity of the donors," Carvalho said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Philippines asked donor governments and aid groups to give more on top of those already providing for survivors of Typhoon "Pablo" and the attack in Zamboanga City of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction led by Nur Misuari on Sept. 9.
The Oct. 15 quake left 206 dead, along with 54,000 houses destroyed in Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor Island.
World Food Programme (WFP) representative Praveen Agrawal said many quake survivors were still living in makeshift tents that would not stand up to heavy rains.
"We need to move fast. If we are overtaken by rains, the situation could become even more serious," he added.
Carvalho said UN aid agencies had only raised $43 million for victims of Typhoon Pablo, far short of the $76 million it originally sought to help rebuild lives after the storm that left nearly 2,000 people dead or missing in the south.
They have also raised $26 million for Zamboanga, where three weeks of fighting between government forces and MNLF rebels opposed to peace talks left more than 140 people dead, she added.
"The international community is very generous if they are able to see a good argument and a good case that is put together … and that is what we find in the Philippines," she said.
Australia's P124-million donation is the single largest foreign donation to date for relief and recovery efforts in the Western Visayas.
The Australian Embassy in Manila said in a statement on Friday that the amount would cover critical needs, including rice, water, sanitation, sleeping mats and mosquito nets.
"The devastation caused by the earthquake, particularly in Bohol, is enormous and staggering. With more than 200 lives lost, 380,000 people displaced, and ongoing aftershocks that aggravate people's suffering, the extent of assistance required is also massive," said Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tweddell, citing UN figures.
Tweddell cited Australia's history of partnership with Bohol, calling the quake damage "heartbreaking" particularly in Bohol, where the temblor collapsed historic churches, major infrastructure and the world-famous Chocolate Hills.
"The Australian government has a longstanding development partnership with Bohol province -spanning more than 20 years- making the earthquake's impact even more heartbreaking. Australia will continue to assist the Philippine government's well-coordinated efforts to address this crisis," Tweddell said.
Of Australia's total aid, P44 million will be funneled through the Philippine Red Cross and the WFP for the distribution of rice and survival kits to families, and through the UN Population Fund for the dissemination of "dignity kits" (personal hygiene packs) to women.
Some P40 million will be used to respond to urgent relief needs, including shelter, water and sanitation and "early recovery activities," the embassy said.
The remaining P40 million will be used to restock supplies of relief agencies involved in the operation.
The embassy said the Australian-funded Provincial Road Management Facility (PRMF) has also partnered with the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in assessing the quake's damage to critical infrastructure, including roads and bridges.
The PRMF has been involved in maintenance and rehabilitation work on Bohol roads in the last three years.
The embassy said the response to natural calamities was top priority under Australia's overall aid program in the Philippines.
"The Australian government understands that humanitarian assistance is not enough. Australia's aid program also focuses on reducing disaster risk and enhancing disaster preparedness across the country," Tweddell said.
The Australian Embassy also announced an additional provision of P20 million for conflict-stricken Zamboanga and Basilan, where residents displaced by fighting between government forces and rebel groups last month remain in need of relief.
Australia earlier donated P10 million to the two provinces to support the government's response to the humanitarian emergency.
Also yesterday, the Catholic Church said it was giving priority to hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Bohol for the restoration of centuries-old churches destroyed by the earthquake.
Speaking on Church-run Radio Veritas, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said that while restoring the churches was a major concern for the Church, helping the displaced survivors must take precedence.
"Our interest is not yet the churches but the people," Palma said. "Let us not worry that even if this is happening, we still continue the journey … something good will come out of the rubble."
On Tuesday, the CBCP committee for the cultural heritage of the Church disclosed that the cost of restoration and reconstruction would range from P80 million to P100 million for each church depending on the extent of damage.
The 17th-century Loboc Church or Church of San Pedro and the old churches in the towns of Clarin, Inabanga, Loon, Maribojoc and Tubigon were among those that were destroyed by the earthquake.
The church in Baclayon town-one of the oldest in the Philippines and Asia-and the churches in Antequera, Bilar, Calape, Carmen, Corellas, Cortes, Danao, Dauis, Dimiao, Lila, Loay, Panglao, Sikatuna, Tagbilaran City, Talibon and Trinidad also suffered major damage.
On Wednesday, Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso met all the priests, religious congregations and lay organizations in the Diocese of Tagbilaran and discussed how they could sustain relief efforts in the province.
Medroso said the participants agreed to provide temporary shelter to the thousands of families displaced by the quake. Urgently needed are tents, which will be put up in safe and open areas.
The CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) said it would be able to sustain its relief work in Bohol with the approval of its application for funding of P14.2 million by Caritas Internationalis.
Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of Nassa, said that with fresh funds, his organization would be able to boost its massive relief effort in Maribojoc, Inabanga, Carmen, Danao and Sagbayan, the hardest-hit towns in Bohol.
Gariguez said the funds would be used to provide shelter, food and other relief stocks for survivors of the quake in the five towns.
Meanwhile, Medroso welcomed the decision of the Commission on Elections to postpone the Oct. 28 barangay elections in Bohol.
"The great calamity that devastated Bohol reduced the people to survival [mode] that to engage in politics like an election is improper to say the least," Medroso told reporters. Reports from Tarra Quismundo, Jocelyn R. Uy and AFP
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