MANILA Nov 19 The Philippines will divide up
the typhoon-ravaged central Visayas between countries to
maximise relief efforts, a senior officer said, as President
Benigno Aquino won guarded praise for improving aid distribution
11 days after the storm hit.
But the country is still struggling to get aid to devastated
areas due to the extent of the destruction, which has left four
million people displaced, threatening Aquino's reforms that have
helped transform the Philippines into one of Asia's
fastest-growing and hottest emerging economies.
Aquino is now personally overseeing relief operations in the
worst-hit city of Tacloban in one of Asia's biggest humanitarian
efforts which could last months, if not years.
The military commander of the Visayas, Lieutenant-General
Roy Deveraturda, said the relief plan was to now cut the region
into blocks and decide which military forces operate where.
"We're planning to ask the British Royal Navy to concentrate
on the western Visayas region to assess and deliver food, water
and supplies to smaller islands... We already have the Americans
in Samar and Leyte and Israeli doctors and relief teams in
northern tip of Cebu," he said.
About 50 U.S. ships and aircraft have been mobilized in the
disaster zone, led by the USS George Washington aircraft
carrier. The USS Freedom, a combat ship for coastal waters,
arrived in Brunei on Monday en route to the Philippines.
Authorities estimate more than 3,900 people were killed when
Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on Nov. 8 and the sea surged
ashore. Estimates of the death toll have varied widely, and the
governor of worst-hit Leyte province said more than 4,000 people
could have been killed on the island of Leyte alone.
The International Labour Organization said five million
workers had had their lives turned upside down.
"But this is not just a matter of numbers," ILO Philippine
Office director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said. "These are people
whose livelihoods have been destroyed."
The United Nations has expressed fear that some islands may
still not have been reached by aid workers, but the government
"Basically, we've provided everyone with relief. What we are
doing right now is sustainment," said Eduardo del Rosario,
director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management
NO LONG-TERM THREAT TO ECONOMY
A British destroyer anchored off Cebu and its helicopters
were flying mercy missions to smaller islands, Deveraturda said.
Once a larger British carrier arrived with seven helicopters,
that would be the best platform for relief for the western
Visayas. A Canadian team with a C10 plane has been operating in
and around the western island of Iloilo.
"We are doing another assessment of the affected areas to
determine the needs and match them with our available resources.
For instance, we have three Japanese ships with ground mobility
and heavy equipment arriving in several days and we'll look at
where and how they would be effective."
The relief effort is key to the fortunes of Aquino, 53, who
got off to a bad start when the disaster struck, downplaying the
extent of the crisis and appearing aloof.
Last week, his popularity was under threat, but he now
appears more confident in front of the news cameras,
rationalising the extent of the damage.
"There's been some improvement in the government's relief
efforts," said Peter Wallace, president of the Manila-based
Wallace Business Forum consultancy. "Being able to move to
Manila a number of displaced people, provide them with
sustenance, we see that happening now. Clearing of the roads
have been done, which is also extremely important."
Attorney Tecson John Lim, city administrator of Tacloban,
said the national government has been trying to do its best.
"The president has been through a lot. Perhaps some of the
things he mentioned might not have been exactly prudent," he
said. "... I think he has seen and is learning to put this
aside, whatever biases he might have had."
Most analysts don't see the economy taking a long-term hit.
The central bank raised its inflation forecasts for this year
and next, but said the faster pace of price increases was not
expected to force a rise in interest rates just yet.
The government said on Tuesday 24,770 personnel, 1,306
vehicles, 104 ships and boats and 163 aircraft had been
deployed. A total of 88 medical teams, 43 foreign and 45 local,
have spread out across the region.
Asif Ahmad, the British ambassador to the Philippines, said
the relief operations could last months, if not longer.
"How long would it take to grow a coconut tree?," he asked.
(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco, Eric dela Cruz
and Karen Lema in Manila, Stuart McDill in Hernani andc Nathan
Layne in Tacloban; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Michael