22 November 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Philippines Typhoon


Food, clean water and shelter remained top priorities for relief efforts in the Philippine regions devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said at a Headquarters press conference today following her recent visit to the affected areas.


“A massive disaster like this requires a massive response,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, noting that millions of people had been affected, including more than 5 million children.  More than 1 million homes had been destroyed or damaged, making more than 4 million people homeless.  Fierce wind and tsunami-like storm surge wiped out entire towns, and, citing a Government estimate, she said the death toll had exceeded 5,200.


The Philippines had one of the best disaster management systems in the world, but the sheer scale of the typhoon and the accompanying storm surge would have tested any country, she said, recalling that in that wake of that disaster, the Government, the Red Cross, and other national and provincial agencies had quickly mounted rescue and relief operations with the support of the international community.  During her visit, she also heard reports of bravery and heart-warming compassion.


The United Nations and humanitarian organizations had provided vital supplies, logistic teams and equipment, she said, adding that some countries also deployed their military assets to stricken areas.  But, logistical challenges had been enormous, with many roads blocked and airports unusable in the first few days.  Disruption to essential services provided by hospitals, banks and markets, as well as lack of communication, fuel, transport, water and electricity made it difficult to scale up aid as quickly as it was needed.


Yet, in the past two weeks, 2.5 million people had been reached with basic food assistance; more than 1.1 million family food packs containing rice and high-energy biscuits had been distributed.  And 72 local and 59 foreign medical teams were providing emergency treatment across the affected areas.  Clean water was available to everyone in Tacloban City, and 14 international military and 96 humanitarian partners had sent personnel, ships and planes to help clear aid routes and distribute supplies.  The United Nations cash-for-work scheme had 6,000 people involved in clearing debris.  A vaccination campaign for half a million children under age five was set to start on Monday to prevent such diseases as measles and polio.


But, a vast number of vulnerable people were still exposed to bad weather and needed basic shelter, she said, adding that they worried that “the typhoon season has not yet ended”.  Families who had lost their homes would need substantial long-term support from the international community to rebuild their houses.  About 1.5 million children were at risk of acute malnutrition, and close to 800,000 pregnant and nursing mothers also needed nutritional help.  Emergency maternal medical care must be prioritized to ensure safe child birth, she stressed.


Responding to a question, she said that the 40 per cent of the previous $301 million appeal had been funded, and added that the current $348 million appeal would be revised substantially in the first week of December, following multi-agency assessments.  To ensure transparency, the Government of the Philippines had launched a website informing what aid was coming in.


To an inquiry about which countries were leading the way in donations, she said that a list was available on a financial tracking service website.  Countries made various types of contributions, including in-kind and military support.


Responding to a question about the situation report published by her office, she said that media, even local media, had difficulty reaching far-flung areas.  On resettlement and displacements, she said that two things needed to be considered:  the Government policy regarding home reconstruction; and how to support those who did not wish to return to their homes.


Communication was very difficult during her first visit, but when she had returned a week later, the situation was much better and people could use cell phones, she said.  In remote areas, efforts were being made to have telecommunication and broadcasting enterprises up and running again.


On questions about the death toll and security, she said that early figures would certainly go up in a disaster of that scale as debris removal got under way, and there was no security issue as far as she knew.


About disaster preparedness, the Philippine Government was re-evaluating the issue of information as many people did not understand the term “storm surge”, which she described as a tsunami-like phenomenon.  More people could have evacuated if they understood what was coming.


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For information media • not an official record