'WE'VE LET PEOPLE DOWN' | UN exec frustrated over slow delivery of aid to 'Yolanda' victims
MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 6:15 p.m.) The United Nations’ under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief expressed frustration Thursday over what she said has been the extremely slow pace of relief distribution to victims of super typhoon “Yolanda.”
“It’s a frustration,” Baroness Valerie Amos declared at a press conference after returning from Tacloban City, the devastated capital of Leyte.
"I think we are all extremely distressed. This is Day Six and we are still not able to reach everyone. My people on the ground, they are personally concerned they are not able to reach the (distressed) people," Amos said.
"I do feel that we have let people down," she conceded.
"Those who have been able to leave have done so. Many more are trying. People are extremely desperate for help," she told reporters. "We need to get assistance to them now. They are already saying it has taken too long to arrive. Ensuring a faster delivery is our ... immediate priority."
"We are not able to get our resources to Tacloban and other areas. It is a frustration... because part of the job I have is to recognize the challenges and overcome those challenges," she said, adding that this sentiment was shared by Philippine government officials she met with in Tacloban.
Amos said the lack of air assets and roads that remain impassable make it difficult for the government and relief organizations to reach survivors in the hardest hit areas and leaving supplies the UN has shipped in for the victims remains stuck in Manila.
Although badly damaged, the Tacloban airport has resumed operations and on Thursday, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines gave the go-signal for commercial flights of Airbus A320s from Manila to resume.
The US military has also helped install runway lights making it possible for relief shipments to be flown in at night.
Amos acknowledged that the challenges they currently face are partly due to the fact that the Philippines is still addressing the effects of earlier disasters, most recently the Central Visayas earthquake and the month-long fighting between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City.
"Every disaster is different and unique to the country to which it occurs. Given the number of disasters that have happened in the Philippines just this year ... it is all the more difficult as humanitarian (organizations) and government to cope," Amos said.
"Our capacity is stretched. We are still dealing with other disasters and also the supplies are run down," she added.
She also cited th lack of coordination with local officials but added that they were not to blame since they, too, were affected by the typhoon.
"The key element is that local officials should be the first to respond, but they themselves lost people. The local capacity on the ground should be doing a huge amount of work but that capacity was lost. We have to remember that even a mayor almost lost his wife. People are besides themselves looking for family members," she explained.
Amos also said even though there had been preparations ahead of the typhoon, no one could have anticipated the severity of the storm surges that, in Tacloban, generated waves of up to three meters high, destroying most everything in their path.
"It (storm surge) could not be anticipated. Essentially tsunami-like, it is the thing that has done the maximum amount of damage. It surprised everyone," Amos said. In contrast, she said, in areas lashed by the typhoon but not by storm surges, the damage was something "people have dealt with in previous crises."
Nevertheless, Amos said she was optimistic the situation would improve in the coming days as both foreign and Philippine government aid begin to reach the devastated areas.
The UN has around 100 people in the field while the US has sent an initial 90 marines to help with seach-and-rescue efforts, following this with a carrier group arriving in the country Thursday.
"I can see operations scaling up significantly. Today and in the coming days, things will get better as logistical capacity increases and facilities at the airport continue to improve," she said, adding that 2,500 metric tons of the World Food Program's high-energy biscuits had arrived in Tacloban.
Yet she reiterated that "much more is required."
Another reason to hope, she said, are the Filipino people themselves.
"People with absolutely nothing are doing their best to regain some degree of normality. We all must do much more now to ensure they receive the help they desperately need and the support required to rebuild their lives," she stressed.
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