UNHCR gears up typhoon emergency response, flies in aid

Making a Difference, 15 November 2013

© UNHCR/V.Tan
Workers in the central Philippines city of Cebu unload UNHCR aid from a Boeing 747. The aid is for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

CEBU, Philippines, November 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has geared up its emergency aid response for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines, organizing two airlifts of aid to the city of Cebu. Distribution of relief items in Tacloban City has been under way since mid-week, and a further aid flight from Dubai will be on its way shortly.

UNHCR's first aid came from the agency's national stockpiles and reached Tacloban on Wednesday, as part of the wider UN response to the devastation caused by the storm. UNHCR staff have been working with the authorities to help some 7,000 people so far.

The aid was contained in two 40-foot container trucks. These carried 2,000 jerry cans, 1400 hygiene kits, 600 mosquito nets, 1,176 kitchen items, 1,400 plastic sheets, 1,400 blankets and 1,900 sleeping mats. Targeted areas include a very badly-damaged municipality called Tanauan, 45 minutes outside Tacloban.

"Conditions in the Tacloban area remain very difficult. Severe fuel shortages mean that trucks can't deliver to communities far from the city. Right now there are still urgent need for tents and solar lamps," a UNHCR spokesman said.

UNHCR staff have been working with our government counterpart to do quick assessments in the east and west of the city to identify specific needs, such as those faced by women, children, the elderly and the disabled. These individuals are being prioritized for aid distribution.

The first Boeing 747 aircraft carrying UNHCR aid landed at 6.30 pm local time on Thursday at Mactan International Airport in Cebu carrying hundreds of family-sized tens. This was followed by the arrival of a second airlift on Friday morning. In all, UNHCR plans to fly in emergency supplies for 16,000 families.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. They need tents urgently, especially as rains have continued this week in some areas. "We are working to rush supplies to the neediest people, but this is hampered by limited means to reach these areas," the spokesman said.

"Aid agencies on the ground in Cebu and typhoon-struck areas are still struggling to meet the huge aid needs. In addition, some truck drivers are reportedly afraid to deliver aid as they fear being ambushed or robbed en route," he added.

UNHCR's emergency response is part of the wider United Nations relief effort in the Philippines. UNHCR is co-leading the protection cluster along with the government's Department of Social Welfare and Development.