independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

We 'failed' our own people, admits Philippines president

THE Philippines president issued a frank admission that the country's disaster relief system had collapsed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, as the government acknowledged mounting criticism of its response to the tragedy.

The most powerful typhoon to hit land ever recorded has left the impoverished Asian democracy reeling as officials struggled to cope with the enormity of the damage.

On the second day of a tour of the affected islands of Samar and Leyte, where thousands died and millions were left homeless, Benigno Aquino said he was "driven to despair" by the disaster.

"The systems failed. We had a breakdown in power, a breakdown in communications, a breakdown in practically everything," he said.

"The destructive force of this typhoon was of such a magnitude that even personnel were themselves victims."

HURDLES

The head of UNICEF Ireland Peter Power called the disaster "possibly the biggest humanitarian crisis ever" faced by the international charity.

"Ten days into this tragedy there are still dead people lying on the side of the road, it's incredible," he told the Irish Independent during a tour of the city of Tacloban yesterday where 200,000 people are now homeless.

Despite airlifts of relief beginning to reach even the most isolated areas affected, senior aid officials said there were still hurdles to the operation.

The UN said up to 2.5 million people were still in need of assistance despite a ramping up of the effort as the US military spearhead deliveries and foreign aid agencies pile into the region.

A family shelters in the ruins of Tacloban Stadium
A family shelters in the ruins of Tacloban Stadium

"We're still facing co-ordination problems and bottlenecks," said Bernard Kerblat, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Manila. "The situation we're facing in the Philippines is unprecedented in magnitude."

A presidential spokesman said the government would accept some criticism of its performance in what appeared to be an effort to placate critics.

"We have to clear up the congestion so that we can increase the flow of food packs and other relief goods to the victims," spokesman Ricky Carandang said.

Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8 as winds blew at speeds of up to 310kmh.

The official death toll stands at 3,976 with 1,598 people missing, while the UN estimates up to four million people have been displaced. In the latest controversy to hit the relief effort, a volunteer posted images of government workers repacking aid from Indonesia as official Philippine assistance.

The Facebook page of Cherrey Mae Bartolata, a volunteer stationed in Mactan Air Base in Cebu, went viral. "I am frustrated. I am angry. I feel hopeless," she wrote. © Daily Telegraph, London.)

Damien McElroy 

Irish Independent

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