The international relief effort in the Philippines responding to the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan is slowly improving.
Roads are clearing, making it easier for lifesaving supplies to reach people in need. Trucks and cars now move between Tacloban city and its airport.
US officials are cautiously optimistic that the improvements will accelerate the relief response to the disaster.
“We are getting to a better place,” said a senior US government official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. “We are starting to turn the corner on the logistical challenges.”
The official said, before the recent improvements it was like trying to fit an orange through a straw. Logistical challenges to deliver aid are still immense.
“We now have more and bigger straws,” the official said.
The main airport in Tacloban is small Large aircraft, like a 747, are unable to land on the airstrip. C130s and other medium sized aircraft, managed by the US military, bring supplies in and evacuate people out to Manila.
Flights on Tuesday delivered 170,000 lbs of USAID supplies, as well as 6,000 lbs of water and 6,000 lbs of food from the Philippines. Wednesday saw similar levels of supplies that included tarps, medical supplies, blankets and humanitarian relief kits. People without homes were carried back to Manila on return flights. Approximately 800 people have been evacuated out of Tacloban on US flights.
Thus far, a $20 million commitment has been made by the US to support the Philippines in its relief work. Half of the money is to be spent by the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) on water, hygiene, emergency kits and more. The other half will buy food aid. The officials said US food aid should have been delivered to the World Food Programme some time yesterday.
Amid reports of declining fuel availability in the Philippines due to weather damage and looting, the US priorities remain food, water and shelter. The Philippines are leading and dictating where needs exist. Marines based in Japan will soon be deployed to the Philippines, which could bring the total number of US military on the ground to 1,000 by the end of the week, if requested.
“Our focus is to get those three key assets into Taclaban in order to prevent further loss of life,” said another official. “Then we will let the sustained piece come in.”
Overall security appears to be improving in the past day. The initial looting and violence were the result of people needing food and water. Areas in Tacloban that experienced looting only a few days ago are relatively calm following the penetration of aid.
There is still a long way to go. Aid is reaching only twenty percent of residents in Tacloban, said city administrator Tecson John Lim to Reuters today.
A debrief with the advance OFDA team that was deployed before the typhoon struck is now underway. There are areas along the coast that have little or no humanitarian access. The officials are hopeful that information collected by the team on the ground will help to identify areas of need and ways to get to the hardest to reach people.
“It’s true, there are still areas that we have not been able to get to where people are in desperate need,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. “I very much hope that in the next 48 hours, that will change significantly.”
OFDA says it starting to provide grants to NGO partners that have more expertise in the region. Many groups on the ground are relying on individual donors and available budgetary space to mount a response in the Philippines. Grants from major donors, like the US, will help ensure work continues.
“That will add a lot of gasoline to the tank of their activities,” said an official.
The two day-old Haiyan Action Plan launched by the UN has raised only thirteen percent of the $301 million appeal. The US officials repeatedly said that this was a demand driven response. It was intimated that the US was willing and able to provide increased assistance if requested by the Philippines.
The focus today is on the humanitarian essentials. There is an expectation that the US will remain involved in the ensuing recovery effort in the months ahead.