TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United Nations (UN) is trying to “mobilize at least US$800 million” (about P33.6 billion) in funds over 12 months to help the Philippines in its efforts to recover from the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday, December 21.
“We will try to provide life-saving support, water, sanitation, food, water and shelter, and also in a long-term development strategy,” Ban said during a press conference in Tacloban Saturday afternoon.
The Philippine government, on the other hand, will be “responsible for resettlement, integration and infrastructures. The United Nations and Filipino government will work very closely,” Ban said. The government said it would need $8.17 billion over 4 years in a massive rebuilding effort.
The UN diplomat arrived early afternoon Saturday at the typhoon-hit Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport.
“I am standing here with a very heavy and sad heart,” he said during the press conference in devastated Village 75.
Ban’s 3-day visit comes more than 6 weeks after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda on Eastern Visayas. The UN estimates that 14 million people were affected by the typhoon and 4 million were forcibly displaced.
The national government puts the current death toll at a minimum 6,057 dead, with 1,779 missing. Up to 8 bodies are still being recovered every day.
“Never despair. The UN is behind you. The world is behind you,” the UN chief said.
Before his speech, Ban toured typhoon-affected areas, visiting Manlurip Elementary School in San Jose – a tent school put up by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – before heading to his press conference. Pupils in the school sang Christmas carols for him, and Ban handed out backpacks to almost 200 elementary school children there.
“How can I describe the feelings which I have after having seen the tragedies and the suffering that were experienced?” he said.
Organizers chose to have him speak with piles of uncleared debris behind him, as well as a ship that had been forced by storm surges to its current place, more than 100 meters inland.
The top diplomat said he was “deeply saddened and humbled” by loss of life and destruction of property. It was, he said, “beyond description.”
Tacloban remains one of the towns with the highest casualty rates, with one village alone reporting at least a thousand killed during the storm surges that punched into the Leyte capital.
He praised the performance of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, with whom he had met earlier in the day. (READ: Aquino thanks UN’s Ban Ki-moon for support)
“I appreciate and commend the very courageous leadership of President Aquino and his ministers, and his team and his people, who have been courageously addressing this tragedy.”
Alarm the world
It may be difficult to attribute one single storm to climate change, he said, “but the intensity and severity and magnitude of destruction and frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather pattern as we have seen indicate clearly” that the storm may be a man-made disaster as well.
“Because climate change has been caused by human beings, then the solution must be found by human beings,” Ban said.
He added that he discussed at length with President Aquino how the UN and member states can strengthen their capacity to reduce the loss of life and damage to property caused by disasters.
“That’s why I’m going to alarm the world again,” said the Secretary-General, and “send out strong messages to the world and I’ll try to have the world focus on reconstruction and resettlement of your country and of your community.”
Level 3 emergency
Ban emphasized unity, saying that the tragedy can be overcome if all are united.
“I am here to bring that unity and solidarity to all of your people. The United Nations will continue to mobilize resources.”
The UN declared the situation in Central Philippines a system-wide Level 3 emergency, the highest level of emergency for the international body.
The Syrian conflict was the only other emergency to be given a Level 3 status at the time, although recent violence in the Central African Republic just last week makes Haiyan-devastated communities one of 3 areas to warrant the highest level of UN response.
In its recent situation report, the UN said that although basic services are being restored quickly in most areas, “key health, nutrition and sanitation-related services are lacking.”
It also noted that vulnerable people in remote areas still remain dependent on food assistance. Shelter solutions are urgently needed, especially with a number of constraints including the availability of materials, property and equipment. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com