Aircraft carrier steams in to Philippines as UN admits failings

14th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

The United States said relief channels were belatedly opening up in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines on Thursday as the UN admitted it had not acted quickly enough to help survivors.

While President Barack Obama urged Americans to dig deep and other countries upped their aid, the UN's humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the scale of the disaster and logistical challenges meant that six days on from the storm, some places remained without help.

"I very much hope that over the next 48 hours that that will change significantly," she told reporters in Manila. "I do feel that we have let people down."

After criticism at home and abroad of China's initial offer of a $100,000 cash donation, the Chinese embassy in the Philippines said Beijing will provide an additional 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) for relief efforts in the form of blankets, tents and other materials.

Transport planes, helicopters, ships and medics are in operation or coming from an array of countries in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, with Australia now raising its total aid contribution to Aus$30 million (US$28 million).

On the ground in the shattered city of Tacloban and around the central Philippines, survivors are pleading for the basics of life from food and water to clothes and medicines -- and security to protect them from mobs pilfering what little aid is getting through.

US officials said the aid operation was slowly getting into gear after daunting challenges posed by shattered ports, roads and communication infrastructure.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrived off the Philippines Thursday, one of eight American ships in the region supporting the aid effort. Washington has committed $20 million six days after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck.

The giant carrier, carrying 5,000 sailors who were diverted from shore leave in Hong Kong, has the ability to desalinate large volumes of water.

"The friendship between our two countries runs deep, and when our friends are in trouble, America helps," Obama said in a statement.

One US official said relief workers were now better able to distribute aid out of Tacloban airport, and that the opening of a land route had given a significant boost by connecting to a sea port.

The most recent aid steps include:

-- The United States is doubling the number of MV-22 Ospreys -- rotor planes that can take off and land like helicopters -- to eight, joining a team of Marines who are equipped with amphibious vehicles and 12 cargo planes delivering food, water and other essentials.

-- The United Nations has launched a flash appeal for $301 million to help with the immediate aftermath of the disaster, which it has said could have already cost 10,000 lives, although the Philippine government says the toll will be lower.

-- The International Labour Organisation is working on emergency employment as part of the UN's appeal. The ILO estimates that three million people have lost their livelihoods, at least temporarily.

-- Australia dispatched another C-130 Hercules transport aircraft with a fourth plane on standby, while the amphibious landing vessel HMAS Tobruk is being diverted to the Philippines.

New Zealand is also sending a C-130 Hercules carrying emergency supplies.

-- Sweden has sent three aircraft carrying aid and base camps to serve as the UN's disaster relief hub, as well as 21 European experts in fields including communications and water purification.

-- Norway will increase its aid by 20 million crowns to 65 million crowns ($10.5 million).

-- South Korea has pledged $800,000 of emergency relief; two C-130s carrying aid left for Tacloban on Thursday and are due to remain there for 10 days.

-- Japan said it was ready to send as many as 1,000 troops from its Self-Defense Forces, along with three naval ships and an unspecified number of aircraft. That would be the Japanese military's single largest relief operation abroad since World War II. It also pledged $10 million for emergency shelters and other help, through aid organisations.

-- France has delivered a shipment of ten tonnes of emergency equipment including tents and tarpaulins while a Dutch air force DC-10 carried 29 tonnes of canvas, water sterilising equipment, medicine and solar lighting. Teams of medical experts have been sent from Belgium and Spain.

-- Malaysia is sending aid flights and military medics, while Indonesian planes are delivering supplies including water filters. Thailand is adding to the regional aid effort with some $2.7 million in aid and an unspecified number of C-130s to take in medical supplies. Vietnam has pledged $100,000 plus $50,000 from the Vietnamese Red Cross.

-- Kuwait, which like other Gulf countries is home to a large number of Filipino expatriate workers, released $10 million in urgent relief aid.

-- Charities and companies worldwide are also donating funds. In one of the biggest non-governmental operations, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is sending eight planeloads of aid including vaccination kits, tents and sanitation equipment.

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© 2013 AFP

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