Philippines: Millions of People Still Hungry

Leyte legislator urges new system in preparing for  disasters

By , Leila B.  Salaverria

12:00 am | Tuesday, November  19th, 2013

TACLOBAN CITY—There may still be millions of people in  the Visayas who have yet to receive any assistance 10 days after Supertyphoon  “Yolanda” swept across nine regions of the Philippines, the United Nations said  on Monday.

But Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez blamed the  delay in assistance to the survivors on “bureaucratic red tape.”

Romualdez, whose district, including Tacloban City, was  pulverized by Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”), urged the creation of a  department or an emergency management authority to be headed by a Cabinet-rank  official to replace the current response system that failed to hit the ground  right after the storm.

“The current setup has proven to be inadequate in  preparing our country from major calamities, which we will inevitably have to  face,” Romualdez said in a privilege speech in the House of Representatives on  Monday.

“This [new] department will drastically reduce, if not  totally eliminate, the bureaucratic red tape that caused the delay in the  delivery of relief goods to the victims and clearing operations in the affected  areas,” he said.

UN assessment

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  (Unocha) found that “375,000 of around 13 million people who were affected by  the calamity were able to receive food relief, but 2.5 million people were still  in need of food assistance.”

Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for the UN humanitarian  office, discussed the agency’s assessment of the response made eight days since  Yolanda struck on Nov. 8.

Cochrane, in an interview with the Inquirer on Sunday,  said the assessment was based on data gathered and consolidated as of Nov. 16  from various local and international organizations involved in humanitarian work  in areas ravaged by Yolanda.

While Eastern, Central and Western Visayas were  considered hardest hit, Yolanda also affected portions of Calabarzon (Cavite,  Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and  Palawan), Bicol, Northern Mindanao, Davao and Caraga regions, said Cochrane, who  arrived in Tacloban on Nov. 14.

Cochrane said the data showed that around 3 million  people were displaced by the typhoon, more than 70 percent of them in the  Western Visayas provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros  Occidental.

Reports from the Department of Social Welfare and  Development (DSWD) indicated that some 2.3 million, or 18 percent of those  affected by Yolanda, could be found in Eastern, Western and Central Visayas.


Cochrane said the UN agency had observed that although  there might be more than enough food assistance coming from different sources,  there were constraints related to the transportation and distribution of the  relief goods.

He cited “bottlenecks” that caused incessant delays in  distribution of relief to survivors, particularly in the six provinces in  Western Visayas.

“Most of them have yet to be reached, unlike in  Tacloban, which has been reached several times by relief operations,” Cochrane  said.

He noted that during the first few days of the  response, damaged roads and airports caused delays in the distribution of relief  goods by UN member-countries.

Cochrane said part of the delay in distribution was the  insufficient number of vehicles and storage facilities.

“Having a ready stock of fuel for vehicles also proved  a challenge during the first few days of extending help here,” he said.

But private local and international organizations, the  government, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), are now  contributing both fuel and vehicles for the distribution of food, he said.

Sixty UN member-countries and international private  organizations are involved in providing both relief goods and “mobility to reach  more beneficiaries,” he said.

The UN humanitarian agency recommended the setting up  of warehouses in Cebu province and other nearby locations in the Visayas not  much affected by the typhoon for the storage of relief goods, Cochrane said.

“This, plus the arrival of eight additional trucks from  the Armed Forces of the Philippines could increase the food distribution  capacity to 400 metric tons per day,” he said.

But even with these developments, the UN report said 60  percent of survivors in Capiz province had not received food assistance while in  Iloilo province, the towns of Carles, Estancia and Concepcion had not received  sufficient help.


The UN humanitarian office recorded 234,760 houses  damaged during the typhoon, and 243,583 completely destroyed.

Some 1,000 tents in Tacloban City and 500 tarpaulins to  be used as temporary shelters in Medellin town in northern Cebu were distributed  by the Philippine government and UN member-countries, the report said.

In addition, 500 “shelter repair kits” have been given  out to residents of Bantayan Island, Cebu.

But the UN agency noted that despite being provided  these materials, few of the survivors had the initiative to build their  temporary shelters.

Cochrane said the inaction of the rest could be due to  the frustration they felt in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“We have to understand that the extent of their  devastation extends beyond the physical,” he said. “They lost their livelihoods,  too.”

The United Nations considers Yolanda one of the  strongest typhoons to hit any place on earth in wind strength and in the damage  it caused.

“The task of rebuilding here would be monumental for  everyone,” he said.

Stop bickering

Another UN official urged a halt to bickering and  finger-pointing in the aftermath of Yolanda.

Bernard Kerblat, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees  representative for the Philippines, told a news conference in Manila that this  is not the time for arguing over discrepancies between the UN death toll  estimate and that of the Philippine government.

The United Nations last week reported an early estimate  of more than 4,000 people dead from Yolanda, a figure disputed by the Philippine  government, whose count at the time was 3,600 dead.

“We have to think of those who died,” Kerblat said.  “Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do but offer them a dignified burial,  without entering into a polemic of how many of them have died.”

Locals defended

At the House on Monday, Romualdez defended local  governments from criticism that they had been remiss in responding to their  constituents’ needs in the aftermath of the storm.

“Our local government officials are at the forefront of  every problem that may arise in their respective communities. But how can they  be mobilized if they don’t have the right resources that may be needed in this  kind of situation? Worse, how can we expect them to respond in any kind of  situation if they, too, are victims of the same tragedy?” Romualdez said.

Local governments need to be strengthened to be able to  handle all kinds of circumstances, he said.

Romualdez urged the passage of legislation that would  give local officials more resources to build safer, adaptive and resilient  communities.

He also noted that the World Risk Index had ranked the  Philippines third among the most vulnerable to disasters.

“I strongly recommend that we pour our resources  preparing for these major calamities. We need to procure more updated rescue and  relief equipment like helicopters, ships, vehicles and other related modern  technology and apparatus,” he said.

Romualdez called on the House to pass his resolution to  allow the spending of P30 billion from the Special Purpose Fund for the  rehabilitation of the towns ravaged by Yolanda.

Aid commission

He also urged passage of the bill that would create a  Typhoon Yolanda Assistance and Development Commission so that P25 billion could  be appropriated for livelihood, rehabilitation, and infrastructure support.

He said tax incentives should be given to people and  private corporations that would help rebuild the typhoon-ravaged towns and  cities.

“This tax holiday bill comes with an invitation for all  entrepreneurs and companies to establish their businesses in these  calamity-stricken areas. While they may be starting from scratch, we assure them  of utmost cooperation to provide a business-friendly climate,” Romualdez said.

He also proposed the creation of a Typhoon Yolanda  Development Integration Assistance Program that would ensure the continued  education of children in communities laid to waste by Yolanda.

And he appealed to the national government and to local  leaders to help the displaced find alternative homes and livelihood so that they  could get back on their feet.—With a report from Jaymee T.  Gamil

Originally posted: 7:31 pm | Monday, November 18th,  2013

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2 Responses to “Philippines: Millions of People Still Hungry”

  1. Brittius Says:

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