UN considers air drops of aid in Yolanda-devastated areas

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MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations is considering air drops as a way to speed up the delivery of aid in isolated areas within Tacloban City as officials acknowledged the slow pace in bringing assistance to affected areas.

Luiza Carvalho, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, said she had discussed this possibility with local officials during her visit to Tacloban on Wednesday.

“It is possible and we discussed yesterday with the city authority of using this disposition within the city itself, so [typhoon victims] don’t need to travel some kilometers away. We should use this system of distribution within the city itself,” said Carvalho on Thursday.

She said the distribution of relief has become the main problem as “we cannot circulate with trucks” in Tacloban’s debris-strewn road network.

The UN humanitarian chief, Under Secretary General Valerie Amos, spoke of the frustration of aid workers and even government officials over delays in aid delivery as she cited several factors stalling the distribution of relief goods such as the debris-clogged roads, bad weather, fuel constraints, lack of communication lines and the virtual lack of local government coordination — apart from the sheer scale of the calamity.

“I think the members of government feel exactly the same way, the mayor (Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez) feels exactly the same. He was speaking to me about the frustration he feels, the basic services he needs to provide his people [and] he has not been able to do it,” said Amos, speaking of how local officials themselves were victims of the calamity.

“So yes, I do feel we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly. But at the same time, I can see and I was able to see yesterday that our operations are scaling up significantly,” she said in a press conference, on Thursday.

Amos said aid workers “feel disappointed that we haven’t been able to do more despite the recognition of the fact that there are reasons for that.”

Asked about incidents of looting, Carvalho expressed optimism that such security concern could be addressed soon with police and military deployments in the city.

“This is not hampering us. There are convoys going, there are airplanes coming. The situation is very localized,” Carvalho said.

“…[W]e believe that we will be coming to the normality very very soon and be able to establish a continuous flow of aid,” she said.

Praveen Agrawal, the World Food Programme’s Country Director in the Philippines, is also optimistic that aid delivery will improve in the coming days as problems in terms of access are addressed.

“Because access was so difficult, it [aid delivery] was slowed down a little it, I do admit that, but within what was done and the incredible challenges that the government has to face, I think we are now at a point where things will start rolling on the right direction,” Agrawal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a separate interview.

The official, who was among the first to see the devastation in Tacloban a day after the Nov. 8 monster storm hit, recognized the need to assure typhoon victims that aid is coming their way.

He said the WFP has set up telecommunications and logistics hub at the Tacloban airport soon to help in coordinating the response. This is apart from supplies that the organization has so far brought to Eastern Visayas, including high-energy biscuits and rice.

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