11/13/2013, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Philippines, survivors battle for aid. Manila disputes the UN estimate of victims

The situation of the people affected by Typhoon Haiyan is increasingly desperate: food, water and medicine are lacking. The army opens fire to disperse looters. The President lowers number of the dead, an “emotional” overestimate of immediate aftermath. The bishops call for "transparency" in the management of funds for aid.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The struggle for survival is increasingly desperate in the central areas of the Philippines, devastated by the passage of super-typhoon Haiyan (renamed Yolanda in the country ) on 8 November last, sowing death and destruction. Aid distribution is slow with several municipalities still isolated five days on and the Civil Protection teams struggling to reach the most critical areas . Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has rejected the death toll of more than 10 thousand dead estimated by the United Nations. The head of state, already under criticism for emergency management in the wake of the typhoon, believes the toll is between 2 thousand and 2,500 deaths , while admitting that it "is likely to grow."

Interviewed by CNN , President Aquino has defended the government's actions and said that the initial estimates circulated in recent days, which speak of more than 10 thousand victims , are "too high " given that the "most likely" figure is about 2,500 dead. The head of state believes the figure is disproportionate due to the " emotional trauma " suffered by police officers and local officials , on whose testimony the UN and the international media based their initial reports. But he admits that "29 municipalities are still isolated" and the Manila government is committed to gathering as much information as possible.

The head of state's words have generated criticism and skepticism among those involved to bring relief to the civilian population. The defensive attitude of President Aquino is explained by his attempt to defuse the growing controversy over prevention policies and, more importantly , the aid operations after typhoon. Meanwhile, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council ( NDRRMC ) reports that the number of official victims (as of the 6pm November 13) is 1,833 dead, 2,623 injured and at least 84 missing.

The testimonies pouring in from the most affected areas tell of scenes of desperation , of a tragedy within a tragedy that combines the devastation caused by Yolanda, inability to distribute aid and a lack of basic necessities . The need for food, clean water and medicines is of maximum urgency. The MP Martin Romualdez , from Leyte , says that "we urgently need to help the needy ," while the number of people affected , according to United Nations estimates , exceeds 11 million. At the moment the UN estimates 673 thousand displaced.

The security situation also continues to worsen, with increasing episodes of looting and pillaging in shops or shopping centers that still have some kind goods available. Eight people were killed during the assault on a government center for the distribution of rice. A witness reports that "a wall collapsed and people were crushed beneath, dying instantly". Some TV pictures show government soldiers sent by President Aquino to Tacloban, one of the most affected areas, firing shots into the air to disperse groups of looters. The mayor Tecson John Lim says that 90% of the coastal city of 220 thousand people was destroyed, while " only 20% of the inhabitants " have received aid . " Looting is not a criminal act - says the director - it is the struggle for survival".

Meanwhile, the Filipino bishops have launched an appeal for "transparency" in the management of funds for the emergency caused by Typhoon Haiyan , as similar cases in the past have often been incidents of corruption or malfeasance. The Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo , President of the Commission for Social Action of the Filipino bishops' conference , "calls on the government to be transparent and honest, to avoid all this money going to waste ." The reference is to the flood of aid which, in the aftermath of the tropical storm that swept the country in 2009, was taken from the emergency relief effort and directed to "ghost projects" undertaken by the executive at the time. " We encourage everyone - adds the prelate - to do the same". Finally, the Bishops' Commission for Youth Ministry is asking people to pray for the victims, in all parishes in the country Masses and prayer novenas are being held, to help people live and strengthen their faith in these tragic circumstances.

 

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