x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UN launches global appeal for millions of Philippines typhoon victims

Urgent disaster relief sought with devastation to affect millions in the southern Philippines.

Children look from a window of a roofless house, destroyed at the height of Typhoon Bopha in the coastal town of Boston in the southern Philippines.
Children look from a window of a roofless house, destroyed at the height of Typhoon Bopha in the coastal town of Boston in the southern Philippines.

DAVAO, Philippines // The United Nations launched a US$65 million (Dh238.7m)global appeal yesterday to help survivors of a typhoon that killed more than 600 people and affected millions in the southern Philippines.

Luiza Carvalho, the country officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the money would initially help to provide food, water and emergency shelter to 480,000 people in the worst-hit areas.

Ms Carvalho spent the past few days visiting Mindanao island, where landslides and floods from Typhoon Bopha flattened entire communities last week, devastating the banana and mining industries.

"I was shocked by the destruction I saw," she said in Davao city on the edge of the disaster zone.

"Areas which have been completely devastated, with only a few damaged buildings still standing. Debris from houses, buildings, landslides and logs. Entire plantations wiped out."

She said the typhoon, the strongest to hit the region in more than 80 years, had left its many poor residents without the means to feed their families.

"This devastation cannot be erased overnight," she said.

Over the longer term, the UN aid programme will help survivors to recover emotionally and rebuild the devastated farm sector, Ms Carvalho said.

A third of the country's banana harvest was wiped out, leaving tens of thousands of plantation workers without asource of income, industry officials said.

Meanwhile, the civil defence office in Manila said 647 bodies had so far been recovered.

At least 780 people were still missing, including about 150 fishermen from General Santos, the country's tuna-fishing capital, who had put to sea before the storm hit.

The civil defence chief, Benito Ramos, has said some of those listed as missing could be among more than 200 unidentified bodies that have not been claimed by relatives.

More than 400 bodies have been turned over to relatives, and the government was considering burying the rest in mass graves if they remain unclaimed afteranother 48 hours.

At least 5.4 million people were affected by the typhoon, the civil defence office said.

In Manila, the president Benigno Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, appealed to the private sector to provide helicopters to fly relief goods to areas cut off by ruined roads and fallen trees.He said that temporary housing and dry clothes were also needed.

"The important thing is shelter because they don't have a roof over their heads," Mr Lacierda said.

In the storm-ravaged town of Cateel, a coconut farmer, Marites Ybanez, 46, said she needed shelter, food and any help she could get after her home and livelihood were destroyed.

Bopha ripped off the second floor of her house, exposing her family of 10 to the elements even as it flattened their small farm.

"We are short of everything - food, medicine, temporary shelter. Our houses are destroyed. When it rains, we get soaked. We really need tents," she said, near tears.

While the local government provided some rice, canned fish and instant noodles, it was not enough, Ms Ybanez said.

She and her 73-year-old mother, who was ill, could only huddle in the ruins of their home, waiting for donations.

The typhoon destroyed 81,000 houses, and more than 300,000 survivors face months of sheltering in crowded government gyms and schools as officials look for safe places to build new homes.

Relief workers have reported lootingin at least one hard-hit town on Mindanao's east coast. Homeless people without a space in government shelters were begging on roadsides.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region at dawn yesterday highlighted the precarious situation survivors face, although the quake was too deep to cause any damage.