Philippines: UN agencies boost relief effort for storm survivors as death toll rises

Residents of Mindanao, Philippines, survey damage caused by tropical storm Washi
Residents of Mindanao, Philippines, survey damage caused by tropical storm Washi

Philippines: UN agencies boost relief effort for storm survivors as death toll rises

United Nations agencies stepped up relief efforts in the Philippines today to help survivors of tropical storm Washi, which the country’s authorities say has killed nearly 1,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of residents of the island of Mindanao in need of humanitarian assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it is providing urgently needed food aid and other supplies, as well as logistical support to boost the Government’s emergency response to help people rendered destitute by the devastating floods caused by the weekend storm, also known locally as Sendong.

The storm swept across the Mindanao region between Friday and Sunday bringing gusty winds and heavy rains that spawned massive flash floods and landslides.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called the Philippine Foreign Minister Albert F. del Rosario to deliver his sympathies to the people and country’s Government and to express UN readiness to provide any assistance required.

The Government has accepted the offer of assistance from the international humanitarian community conveyed by the UN in the aftermath of the storm, Vanessa Huguenin, public information officer with UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva. OCHA is revising its humanitarian action plan for Mindanao to include needs resulting from the latest storm, she said.

The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, expressed his condolences to the people and Government of the Philippines for the loss of lives and urged UN Member States and the international community as a whole to increase assistance to those affected. He also stressed the need to improve disaster preparedness across the world.

Stephen Anderson, WFP’s Country Director in the Philippines, said the agency is rapidly moving food from its warehouses in Mindanao for delivery to those made homeless by the floods.

“We are working with the Government to provide vital emergency food rations to help those who have lost their homes and belongings in areas where there has been the most extensive devastation from the flooding,” he said.

WFP’s initial assistance includes the rapid delivery of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed more than 7,800 people in evacuation centres in the stricken cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Additional high-energy biscuits for 65,000 people are currently being mobilized, according to an update issued by the agency.

Supplies of the nutritious ready-to-use supplementary food are also being distributed to some 15,000 children under the age of five, according to WFP.

Logistical support provided to the Government by WFP include the deployment of a mobile storage tent and delivery of water tanks, blankets, tarpaulins and tents for people who have been displaced by storm waters.

The Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that of the 285,000 persons displaced by floods, some 43,000 are sheltered in 62 evacuation centres.

WFP voiced concern over those who remain in inaccessible areas, saying it will work closely with the Government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development and other agencies to reach them.

The official death toll rose to 957, with dozens of people still listed as missing. OCHA reported that an estimated 338,000 people had been affected by the floods.

A joint rapid assessment by UN agencies and national authorities has identified the immediate needs of those affected as food, non-food items, water sanitation and hygiene facilities and shelter.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it has launched an appeal for $4.2 million to assist families affected by the storm for the next three to six months, according to Marixie Mercado, the agency’s spokesperson in Geneva. Those affected by Washi include an estimated 200,000 children, she added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that preliminary reports showed that 12 health centres in Cagayan de Oro, and 10 community health facilities in Iligan were put out of service after the storm.

Major hospitals in the two cities are still functioning and there were no major public health concern, except the risk of communicable diseases due to a lack of clean water and sanitation facilities, Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson in Geneva, said.

Malaria and dengue fever are endemic in the flood-affected areas and WHO will send mosquito nets to evacuation centres, he added.

WHO is also working to roll out a disease surveillance system for communicable and non-communicable diseases and the training of local health workers, which had already been planned before the storm, Mr. Jasarevic said, adding that the health cluster is seeking $1.6 million to ensure that flood-affected communities continue to have access to essential public health services.