UK increases hands-on aid to the Philippines

The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious has arrived in the Philippines to distribute relief aid for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

The helicopter and commando carrier takes over from HMS Daring which has been distributing aid and assisting villagers in remote communities on islands to the north east of Panay for the past week.

Helicopters are planning to survey the remote islands in the west of the country before beginning aid distribution on Tuesday. The crew will use helicopters to deliver aid to people who are stuck in isolated areas where aid has not yet arrived.

The arrival of the HMS Illustrious reportedly has the capacity to increase aid ten-fold to the Philippines.

[BBC]

Philippines struggles to keep typhoon aid and donations graft-free

As millions of dollars pour in for more than four million left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines, authorities are grappling with a familiar problem – how to stop fraudulent claims and prevent greedy politicians taking advantage.

Nearly $298 million in cash and relief goods have so far been pledged by countries and donor groups to an overwhelmed government that was criticized for its slow response in the first few days after disaster struck.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have committed a total of more than $1 billion in grants and emergency loans to support reconstruction and relief efforts.

Add to that the millions of pesos raised by the private sector, with Filipinos working across the globe gathering friends for fund-raising activities, and you have a lucrative target for scammers and unscrupulous public officials in one of the most corrupt countries in East Asia. (The Philippines comes in at 105 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.)

This week, Manila launched an online portal called FAiTH to provide information on donations in answer to concerns that aid money might once again end up lining pockets of local officials.

[Reuters]

US military aid toward Philippine typhoon relief

Two weeks ago, the Marine Corps general in charge of U.S. military aid efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, asked the Pentagon to urgently send a number of amphibious warships to the Philippines.

The USS George Washington was the first to arrive, and two amphibious ships arrive there Wednesday, Navy officials say. The USS Ashland and the USS Germantown can get closer to the storm-ravaged areas than the massive aircraft carrier, and they have a variety of helicopters, small boats, trucks, equipment to produce potable water and other supplies needed in the relief effort.

The two ships picked up 900 Marines in Okinawa to aid in the relief efforts.

A third ship, the USS Freedom, is also carrying supplies from Singapore, the Navy said.

[CNN]

Military aid a backdoor means of getting the U.S. back into Philippines bases?

Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a former policy director for South and Southeast Asia on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested in USA Today using the U.S. military aid to those suffering in the Philippines as a backdoor means of getting the U.S. military back into a larger occupation of the Philippines:

“Deploying military resources for disaster relief is a remarkably effective — and inexpensive — investment in the future. One of the largest such deployments in history, the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and other assets following the Asian tsunami of 2004, is estimated to have cost $857 million.

“[However that’s roughly only] the price of three days’ operations in Afghanistan last year.”

“The goodwill the tsunami relief brought the U.S. is incalculable. Nearly a decade later, the effort may rank as one of the most concrete reasons Southeast Asian nations trust the long-term U.S. commitment to a strategy of ‘Asian rebalancing’

“The Obama administration recognizes the value of disaster relief. As the Pentagon attempts to shift more of its weight to the Asian Pacific region while balancing a shrinking budget, this could turn out to be one of the best decisions it could make.”

[From an article by David Swanson]

Challenges in sizing up the needs of the Philippines

Around the world, aid agencies are dispatching teams to the Philippines. A minimum of 670,000 people are displaced and 41,000 houses are damaged, with about half destroyed. And total casualty numbers continue to vary wildly, depending on different sources.

Getting a handle on a crisis on this scale is hard, but it’s made even harder when you’re working in an archipelago in a country that is relatively poor with weak infrastructure. That’s the challenge in the Philippines, where we are facing decimated services on a truly terrifying scale.

Where state resilience and infrastructure are weak, the immediate concern is recovering, maintaining and reconstructing basic water and sanitation services. A cholera outbreak is always a threat, and other diseases such as typhoid are often the first killers to emerge.

The second priority is to assess and reinforce health care systems. Many survivors would be ill and reliant on a health service that the typhoon has destroyed. So, securing and providing medication for chronic conditions such as diabetes, which can quickly become life threatening if left without attention, is crucial. We are already hearing reports of closed hospitals without power and fears of electrocution if the power is switched back on.

Reports indicate that aid agencies will be able to access a robust pharmaceuticals market based out of the capital of Manila, but the supply of medical supplies and infrastructure tools will quickly dry up.

So aid agencies will call for and coordinate international flights and shipments of the medicines and resources that are in the shortest supply or that have already run out.

Like many disasters, the event itself lasted only a few hours, but the response will take many years to achieve what it must. So this is a long-term project.

[CNN]

International aid pouring into the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan may have hit the Philippines with the strongest sustained cyclone winds on record at 195 mph. Gusts reported at first landfall rose to 235 mph (375 kph) — also a record, if confirmed.

Amid widespread suffering and reports of rising tensions on the ground, aid organizations and nations around the world raced to deliver aid to areas devastated by the storm five days ago.

While continued rain and transportation problems were stymieing efforts to deliver aid to those in need, Doctors Without Borders was one of many international organizations deploying cargo flights with hundreds of tons of supplies on board. Among the gear: tetanus vaccinations, hygiene kits, tents and even an inflatable hospital to treat badly wounded people staggering into Tacloban’s shattered airport seeking treatment. Oxfam and other organizations, U.N. and U.S. civilian disaster assessment teams were on the scene.

In Hong Kong, the U.S. Navy rounded up sailors enjoying shore leave from the USS George Washington and ordered the aircraft carrier’s strike group to make “best speed” for the Philippines. Its air wings will deliver supplies and medical care to survivors.

At least 29 nations or government groups had sent or pledged aid, according to the Philippines government. Among the aid — $25 million from the United Nations, $4 million from the European Union, $16 million from Britain and $10 million from the United Arab Emirates, home to a large population of expatriate Filipino workers.

Belgium and Russia sent field hospitals. The European Union sent 3 million euros ($4 million) and two Boeing 747 aircraft loaded with supplies. Israel loaded up two 747s with 200 medical personnel and supplies.

But it will almost certainly continue to be difficult to get that aid to survivors. Many roads remain blocked, and electricity is out in many areas, making it difficult to operate at night.

Deadly typhoon creates health crisis in the Philippines

One of the most intense typhoons on record, Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) left catastrophic destruction behind. It was 3.5 times more ferocious than Hurricane Katrina — and big enough to stretch from Spain to Sweden. The stories coming out of the Philippines are unimaginable. Rushing water and wind tearing children away from their parents’ arms. A city of 200,000 in which no buildings appear to have survived intact.

The Red Cross says it has ordered 10,000 body bags in preparation for the number of bodies it believes it will have to retrieve. The official death toll, currently in the hundreds, is likely to grow quickly as rescue crews are better able to assess the situation.

What is left behind are some 4.2 million people who have been affected by the storm, many of them injured, thirsty or hungry. The Philippines storm has created serious food and water shortages.

A second round of deaths may be imminent, given limited food and water, along with pools of standing, possibly polluted water amid a breakdown in ordinary sanitation. Relief agencies are worried about outbreaks of disease and infections in the storm’s wake.

Medecins Sans Frontieres says in the first stage of its recovery efforts, it will work to keep infection rates down and then work to vaccinate people for tetanus. The agency will also provide ongoing psychological help to the victims of the disaster many of whom will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“People in the Philippines are used to typhoons, but the scale of this is completely unprecedented. People will suffer a lot of trauma from the death and destruction they are seeing and will be scared for future typhoons. We will make room for people to speak with a professional and will set up group sessions where people can talk through their trauma.”

International efforts to contain polio outbreak in Syria

Polio have been confirmed among children in Syria, the first outbreak of the disease in that country since 1999, a World Health Organization spokesman confirmed to CNN. Most of the victims were younger than two years old and were unimmunized or underimmunized, WHO said in a statement.

The Syrian Health Ministry is working with international organizations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to get the vaccine to all areas of Syria. Health officials recently launched a program to immunize 1.6 million Syrian children against polio, measles, mumps and rubella — in government- and rebel-held areas. The response, which will also include neighboring countries, is expected to last at least six months, the WHO said.

Given the fighting, the large-scale movement of refugees and the number of children who have not been fully immunized, “the risk of further international spread of wild poliovirus type 1 across the region is considered to be high.”