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Aid blockages leave typhoon survivors desperate
by Staff Writers
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Nov 14, 2013

China to step up aid to Philippines amid controversy
Beijing (AFP) Nov 14, 2013 - China said Thursday it would increase its aid to the typhoon-pummelled Philippines, after criticism of its initial modest response, but some Chinese web users called for no help at all.

The two countries are embroiled in a longstanding row over islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

Manila accuses Beijing of asserting its claims increasingly aggressively and says Chinese vessels have occupied the Scarborough Shoal, which it claims itself, since last year.

China -- which has enjoyed a years-long economic boom -- announced a $100,000 cash donation on Monday, with a matching one from the Chinese Red Cross, far less than other countries and a move that prompted criticism overseas.

The US magazine Time carried a report Wednesday under the headline "The world's second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines".

"The Chinese government has been made to look mean-spirited in front of the world community," said the article.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that the country decided "just days ago" to provide an additional 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) for relief efforts in the form of blankets, tents and other materials.

"There will be thousands of tents and tens of thousands of blankets," he told reporters at a regular briefing.

"We hope that these supplies will be delivered to the disaster-stricken areas as soon as possible to show our sympathies with the Philippines."

Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central islands of the Philippines on Friday, wreaking havoc across a large area.

Chinese media and Internet users -- many of whom are intensely nationalistic -- were divided on how the country should respond to the disaster.

"If (the Chinese government) was generous to the Philippines, it would hurt the Chinese people completely," wrote a user with the online handle Old Beijing on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Another user said: "I think what China has done was rational -- facts have long showed the wickedness of the Philippine regime. It will not be grateful even if we hand them much money. Instead, it could use the cash to buy weapons from the US to attack us."

Others argued that China was also a victim of the storm and had its own disaster relief needs at home.

The typhoon brushed three provinces and regions in south China this week, leaving at least 13 dead or missing and 252,000 people displaced, according to the latest official data.

Nevertheless some commentators warned that it was not in China's best interests to minimise its humanitarian aid to the Philippines.

"A country's status on the world stage does not only rely on its economic and military strength. It is also determined by how much soft power it can master, which includes its approach to humanitarianism," said a commentary in the state-run Global Times Thursday.

Qin also played down the online nationalist sentiment, saying that an "overwhelming majority" of Chinese people "understand and sympathise with the sufferings of the Philippines".

Cyrus Trimar lashed his three infants to a roof truss to stop them being washed away by the ocean as Super Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines.

Now he must scavenge for food to keep them alive, desperate for aid that sits undistributed in warehouses as lawlessness and shaky infrastructure hold up supplies desperately needed by the hungry and destitute survivors.

Trimar, who has picked up noodles from an overturned grocery van and butchered a stray pig, is one of thousands who took to helping himself because the outside assistance he had hoped for has not arrived.

"If only food aid arrived immediately, all this looting would have been avoided," he told AFP.

The plight of 29-year-old Trimar is far from unique amongst survivors of the category five storm which hit on Friday with winds reaching 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour, generating waves up to five metres (16 feet) high that surged inland like a tsunami.

Almost a week after one of the strongest storms on record devastated large swathes of the Philippines' central islands, flattening homes and killing possibly thousands, the United Nations has admitted it had not been able to get help in quickly enough.

Even as the international community pledges tens of millions of dollars worth of help, aid agencies lament a shortage of trucks and fuel, bottlenecks on routes into the devastated city of Tacloban and security fears, with reports of aid convoys being ambushed.

"The looting and general insecurity has been a concern," said Cat Carter of Save the Children. "Finding a safe place to store aid overnight is a real challenge."

She added that her team could not "co-ordinate the relief effort properly" because of disrupted communications.

"Electricity being down is a huge problem because we don't have power for a lot of what we need to do. We need to bring generators in but you can't on these smaller planes," Carter said.

"The combination of challenges makes it extremely difficult to deliver the aid we need. It's incredibly frustrating."

Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said the situation was really difficult.

"We need a sense of normalcy," she said, adding people should not have to see "dead bodies, dead animals and debris everywhere".

Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez echoed that sentiment, and said the number of dead and their presence all over the city was hampering the response.

"I cannot use a truck to collect cadavers in the morning and use it to distribute relief goods in the afternoon," he said.

We need "more manpower and more equipment. Let's get the bodies out of the streets. It's creating an atmosphere of fear and depression."

He said aid agencies were not moving in quickly enough because they wanted to know how much help was needed before they went into the town -- information, he said, that was not readily available.

"It's like a bank robbery -- it's better to have all units respond. We're on the seventh day already and they are still estimating. We need an overwhelming response," he said.

On Thursday UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the scale of the disaster and the logistical challenges it posed meant some places still remained without help.

"There are still areas that we have not been able to get to where people are in desperate need," she told reporters in Manila "I very much hope that over the next 48 hours that that will change significantly."

"I do feel that we have let people down."


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Typhoon: after battle to survive, the struggle to live
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Nov 14, 2013
People who clung to power cables or cowered in concrete buildings as an apocalyptic storm blew through the Philippines may have thought they were lucky to live, but for many, the struggle to survive has only just begun. Those who made it through the terrifying winds, which hurled cars and parts of buildings around as they brought a surge of seawater ashore, each have a story to tell about th ... read more

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