Up to four million children in the eastern Philippines are in desperate need of food, water and medicine in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Their lives are at risk unless the tardy pace of delivering emergency supplies is rapidly improved.
Aid workers say that along with the elderly, children are always the most vulnerable in any natural disaster. But following Haiyan, there are concerns there is an utter absence of safe places for children who may have been separated from their families, or indeed orphaned.
An assessment by the charity Save the Children suggests that 3.9m children are in the area devastated by the storm and urgently need basic supplies. Reaching them is proving to be more difficult than experts had initially assessed.
“Like everybody else they are hungry and they need water,” the charity’s Miles Barter told The Independent. “But there are also issues of child protection. It’s important to set up places where these children are safe. We call these places child-friendly spaces. It sounds like jargon but they are really important.”
The warning over the plight of youngsters came as the Philippines’ President, Benigno Aquino, found himself under growing pressure to speed up the distribution of food, water and medicine. More than half-a-dozen large transport planes are flying on a rotation from the airport in the city of Cebu, located on a neighbouring island.
But while international relief efforts have picked up, many petrol station owners whose businesses were spared from the storm have refused to reopen, leaving little fuel for trucks needed to move supplies and medical teams around the devastated areas nearly a week after the typhoon struck.
“There are still bodies on the road,” Alfred Romualdez, mayor of Tacloban, told Reuters. Tacloban was one of the locations in the path of the storm and the city of 220,000 has been reduced to rubble.
The city government remains paralysed, with just 70 workers compared to 2,500 normally, he added. Many were killed, injured, lost family or were simply too overcome with grief to show up for work.
“It’s scary. There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies,” said the mayor. “They say it’s five or 10. When we get there, it’s 40.”
Among the countries sending aid to the Philippines are the US and Japan, nations that once bitterly fought for control of the islands but which are now are at the forefront of the huge rescue operation.
Japan is preparing to send as many as 1,000 troops, as well as naval vessels and aircraft, in what could be Tokyo’s biggest postwar military deployment.
Meanwhile, the USS George Washington nuclear-powered super carrier has also arrived, along with a number of escorts ships, 5,000 crew and more than 80 aircraft. It will be involved in coordinating search-and-rescue operations and providing a platform for helicopters to move supplies.
The Associated Press said that Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters 1,000 soldiers from the Self-Defence Forces were being sent to the Philippines. Three naval vessels may also be dispatched, along with helicopters and aircraft.
Reports say that Japan has already donated $10m in aid to the Philippines and sent a 25-strong emergency medical relief team. But the deployment of the 1,000 additional soldiers would mean the effort was bigger than the country’s response to the 2004 tsunami which devastated Indonesia’s Aceh province.
Japan invaded the Philippines in World War Two and scattered fighting continued until Tokyo’s surrender in 1945. But Philippine officials have said their nation does not share the concerns of others in Asia, notably China and South Korea, about Japan’s military past.
The UN has estimated 11.5m people are affected by Typhoon Haiyan and that 544,600 people remain displaced. It says trucks and fuel are urgently needed to deliver aid and that debris and logistics continue to severely constrain the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The first C-130 transport planes arrived at 3am at Tacloban airport, the first night-time flight since the typhoon struck last Friday, suggesting air control systems are now in place for a continuous operation. However, on Thursday evening it seemed the planes had been halted for the night.
Gegham Petrosyan, from International Committee of the Red Cross, said destruction along the south cost of Samar island had been “massive.”
“People are desperate for life-saving aid,” he said. “However, logistical and security constraints continue to hamper the distribution of desperately needed relief.”
The official death toll rose to 2,357, according a national tally kept by the disaster agency. That figure is expected to rise when accurate information is collected from the whole disaster zone, which spreads over a wide swathe of the eastern and central Philippines but appears to be concentrated on two main islands, Leyte and Samar.
There have also been allegations from local officials and politicians that the authorities are intentionally suppressing the true scale of the storm, for political reasons.
President Aquino has been on the defensive over his handling of the storm. He has said the death toll might have been higher had it not been for the evacuation of people and the readying of relief supplies, but survivors from worst-affected areas say they had little warning of a tsunami-like wall of water.
While Tacloban has been the focus for much of the efforts so far, aid workers say they have found that several other islands have also been badly affected and need assistance.
“More than 90,000 homes have been totally destroyed in Panay, along with hundreds of boats in the fishing-dependent island,” said Save the Children’s Evan Schuurman, who is in the region.
“The people are suffering. Power poles have been snapped in half, trees uprooted and buildings turned to rubble. Electricity has not been restored and many people are struggling to feed their families.”