Scale of devastation in the Philippines leave aid workers stunned | Pacific Beat

Scale of devastation in the Philippines leave aid workers stunned

Scale of devastation in the Philippines leave aid workers stunned

Updated 11 November 2013, 17:56 AEDT

In the Philippines authorities and aid organisations are still trying to come to terms with the massive task they face after Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Looting has broken out in areas where the aid operation has been slow in providing emergency food. And still there are some areas where blocked roads have meant no one has been able to get into the area to assist the people or to assess the damage.

Presenter: Brian Abbott

Ian Wishart the CEO of Plan Australia

WISHART: There's so many more areas to meet. What people are seeing on the TV at the moment is images of the damage at Tacloban, but what's ominous is we just haven't got enough information about that East Samar area as to what the damage is there. We have sent two teams, one from the north, one coming up from the south to try and reach those areas, one is still making progress, the other team has had to turn back. It found the road impassable. So on the ground, it's very difficult to reach all of these communities and we're still bracing unfortunately for more bad news.

ABBOTT: Are helicopters being used in this effort to find out just how bad the typhoon was?

WISHART: People are using aerial surveillance and trying to access the situation.

At the end of the day, we've still got to get into those communities, even when you land, you've got to be able to move around and get to different communities. So it's logistically, quite complicated.

Also coordination is a big issue. It's not that people aren't trying. It's just that some of the front line responders, such as municipal authorities unfortunately lost their lives during the disaster, so we're having to or the government's having to recreate command structures if you like.

ABBOTT: Is there a coordinated response from the various aid groups or are you each doing your own thing?

WISHART: In these big disasters, there's always a very sophisticated coordination mechanism that's run by the host government, in this case, the Filipino government and the UN. It's called a cluster system. There is a cluster for food needs, they'll be a cluster for water, they'll be a cluster for shelter and everything goes through those clusters to maximise coordination.

I have three different other aid agencies sitting in my office here right at the moment working on joint plans and making sure that we're working, coordinating together. But Plan International is right at the hub of this, to make sure that we get a response to the community and these children.

ABBOTT: Ian, what are the most urgent needs? Are they still centred around food, water and shelter?

WISHART: Yes, in these big emergencies, the first stage is always the Search and Rescue, which is going on as we speak, then it is the food, the shelter, the water and the medical supplies and medical treatment.

As we move forward through the weeks, the attentions going to turn, I believe in this disaster to the massive loss of housing. So you can put people in a temporary shelter for a night or two, but what are we going to do long term? So we need temporary shelters, semi-permanent ones, and then ultimately, we need to help these people rebuild their homes. Thousands and thousands of homes have been lost.

ABBOTT: I suppose it's not only the homes, it's also their livelihoods have gone, because we've heard reports of whole crops just being wiped out by the typhoon?

WISHART: Yes, food losses will be substantial.

Just earlier, I was speaking with WFP, the World Food Program that is. They are the UN agency charged with ensuring that in times of disasters, people don't go hungry and get food supplies. They will be coordinating what we call the backbone of big ships of food coming in, but it will be the NGOs, the aid organisations, on the ground who are helping to distribute that food.

It'll take a long time to rebuild a lot of these crops and help people get their lives up and going. It's also the small shopowners by the side of the road, it's the little industries, small factories and stuff that have been knocked out. So people will be really doing it tough here for quite sometime.

ABBOTT: There are more and more reports reaching us about looting and the fact that the government is thinking to declare a state-of-emergency to try to control it. What are your people on the ground telling you about the extent of looting that's going on in some areas?

WISHART: Yeah, I was talking to our security adviser just moments earlier, and certainly there have been some security incidences, food supplies looted, even I heard in one case, some aid supplies taken. People are quite desperate, so sometimes you see this kind of behaviour, but it is quite tense at the moment in some areas.

ABBOTT: Aren't reports of looting indicating that the aid effort so far has failed to reach these people, who are desperate enough to go looting?

WISHART: Well, my organisation Free Position, supplies to 20,000 families when we knew the typhoon was coming. But I think it's the scale of the disaster that is overwhelming even those efforts. But as you can appreciate, logistics in this situation are very complex and it does take time and so these people unfortunately those affected on the ground sometimes taking matters into their own hands simply to survive.

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