Baroness Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency who is leading the agency’s relief efforts in the Philippines, expressed frustration over the speed at which humanitarian and logistical aid are trickling into the disaster areas.
“I think we are all extremely distressed. This is day six and we are still not able to reach everyone. My people on the ground, they are personally concerned they are not able to reach the people,” she said.
Some of the supplies the United Nations have for the victims remain stuck in Manila because of the minimal air assets that can transport the relief aid.
“We are not able to get our resources to Tacloban and other areas. It is a frustration . . . because part of the job I have is to recognize the challenges and overcome those challenges,” she said.
The UN official noted that even Philippine government officials feel the same way.
Amos said there is a shortage of vehicles for waste management, so debris and blocked roads cannot be cleared yet. This makes it doubly challenging for humanitarian and relief aid to reach the affected people.
“I do feel we have let people down because we are not able to get in more quickly,” she lamented.
“Every disaster is different and unique to the country to which it occurs. Given the number of disasters that have happened in the Philippines just this year, it is all the more difficult for humanitarian and government to cope,” Amos said.
“Our capacity is stretched. We are still dealing with other disasters and also the supplies are run down.”
But despite the hardship being endured by the typhoon victims, Amos said that the people are holding up because of their resiliency.
“Tens of thousands of people are living in open or sheltering in the remains of their homes and badly damaged public buildings, exposed to rain and wind. Many have lost loved ones, homes, livelihood. Medical facilities for those were injured; food, clean water and basic sanitation are urgently required,” she said.
“There are many challenges ahead. We talk constantly about the resilience of the Filipino people. Yesterday, I saw it personally. People with absolutely nothing are doing their best to regain some degree of normality. We all must do much more now to ensure they receive the help they desperately need and support required to rebuild their lives,” she added.
But Amos said that the delivery of aid will improve with the arrival of aircraft with life-saving supplies, including 2,500 metric tons of energy biscuits from the World Food Program (WFP).
“The immediate priority for humanitarian agencies over the next few days is to scale up the relief operation on the ground. Transporting and distributing food, tarpaulins, tents, and other shelter and non-food items to ensure the people are protected have basic necessities,” she added.
Amos said humanitarian aid will also reach other areas hit by the typhoon such as Guiuan in Samar and Ormoc City.
She also lauded Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman for leading the national relief effort.
The Haiyan (Yolanda) Action Plan is targeting to get $301 million humanitarian aid to help the million disaster victims to their immediate need as of November 12 the plan is 14 percent funded.
Based on combined data of the Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC) and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), 11.8 million people were affected, with 2,357 dead, 3,853 injured and 77 missing.
Amos explained that the capacity to reach the people in need all became more difficult because local officials have also been affected by the typhoon.
“The key element is that local officials should be the first to respond, but they themselves lost people. The local capacity on the ground should be doing a huge amount of work,” the UN official said.
“But that capacity was lost. We have to remember that even the mayor almost lost his wife. People are besides themselves looking for family members,” Amos said.
The failure to forecast the storm surge, which brought waves up to three meters in height, also added to the task at hand as it completely obliterated everything on its path.
She said that in other areas where the typhoon passed but were not hit by the storm surge, the damage was something “people have dealt with in previous crisis.”
A task force has been created to address the issues, but “massive effort is needed” in terms of removing the debris and clearing the roads.
Amos was also quick to point out that the United Nations is certainly not forgetting the aid needed by other affected areas.
“Other regions suffered severe losses and damage and have not fallen off our priority list,” she said.
Provinces outside Tacloban City affected by the typhoon and the accompanying storm surge were Roxas City, Samar and Ormoc, among others. Some areas in Palawan were also destroyed.
Amos expects the situation to pick up in the coming days as foreign aid and those from the central government are beginning to enter the devastated areas.
Countries like Australia, the United States, United Kingdom and Singapore have also sent air assets to help in the transportation and the delivery of relief aid.
The United Nations has 100 people on the ground.
“I can see operations scaling up significantly. Today and in the coming days, things will get better as logistical capacity increases and facilities at the airport continue to improve,” she said.
Amos, however, reiterated that “much more [effort and aid]is required.”