The United States said relief channels were belatedly opening up to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines on Thursday as President Barack Obama urged Americans to dig deep and other countries upped their aid.
Transport planes, helicopters, ships and medics are in operation or coming from an array of countries in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, with Australia now taking its total aid contribution to Aus$30 million (US$28 million) and deploying extra defense staff to help deal with the disaster.
On the ground in the shattered city of Tacloban and around the central Philippines, survivors are desperately pleading for the basics of life from food and water to clothes and medicines—and security to protect them from mobs pilfering what little aid is getting through.
US officials said the aid operation was slowly getting into gear after daunting logistical challenges posed by shattered ports, roads and communication infrastructure.
The USS George Washington carrier escorted by two cruisers and a destroyer are steaming towards America’s former Asian possession, and Washington has committed $20 million—roughly half for food and the rest to prevent diseases six days after Super Typhoon Yolanda struck.
“The friendship between our two countries runs deep, and when our friends are in trouble, America helps,” Obama said in a statement.
One US official said relief workers were now better able to distribute aid out of Tacloban airport, and that the opening of a land route had given a significant boost by connecting to a sea port.
The initial effort was “a lot like trying to squeeze an orange through a straw”, the official told reporters on a conference call.
“We are now getting more straws, if you will, and bigger straws.”
The United States is doubling the number of MV-22 Ospreys—rotor planes that can take off and land like helicopters—to eight, joining a team of Marines who are equipped with amphibious vehicles and 12 cargo planes delivering food, water and other essentials.
The USS George Washington will bring the capacity to desalinate large volumes of water.
The United Nations has launched a flash appeal for $301 million to help with the immediate aftermath of the disaster, which it has said could have already cost 10,000 lives, although the Philippine government says the toll will be lower.
The most recent aid steps include:
–The International Labor Organization is working on emergency employment and cash-for-work programs as part of the UN’s appeal. The ILO estimates that three million people have lost their livelihoods, at least temporarily. It says nearly half of these are vulnerable workers—subsistence farmers or fishermen.
— Australia’s government dispatched another C-130 Hercules transport aircraft with a fourth plane on standby, while the amphibious landing vessel HMAS Tobruk is being diverted to the Philippines.
“As a good friend and neighbor, Australia stands beside the Philippines as it deals with this humanitarian disaster,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office said in a statement.
— Japan said it was ready to send as many as 1,000 troops from its Self-Defense Forces, along with three naval ships and an unspecified number of aircraft. That would be the Japanese military’s single largest relief operation abroad since World War II.
Tacloban was the first Philippine city to be liberated from Japan’s occupying forces by US troops in 1944 during the war.
— Kuwait, which like other Gulf countries is home to a large number of Filipino expatriate workers, released $10 million in urgent relief aid.
— Charities and companies worldwide are also donating funds. In one of the biggest non-governmental operations, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is sending eight planeloads of aid including vaccination kits, tents and sanitation equipment. AFP