Global relief efforts in the Philippines have kicked into high gear …

Initial signs visible of communities beginning to shift from survival mode to early stages of recovery. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)

Global relief efforts in the Philippines have kicked into high gear, with aid workers, heavy equipment and life-saving supplies flowing into regions devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. There were initial signs on Monday that communities were beginning to shift from survival mode to the early stages of recovery. Markets were beginning to reopen, though with very limited wares, some petrol stations were pumping and residents were repairing damaged homes or making temporary shelters out of the remains of their old ones.

“The darkest night is over but it’s not yet 100 percent,” Lieutenant-General Roy Deveraturda, regional military commander, said. Nevertheless, residents are desperate to leave the disaster zone amid growing concerns over the lack of food and medicine. And the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning of sigificant medical concerns.

Chaotic week

The November 8 typhoon killed or left missing more than 5,000 people and left four million displaced, requiring food, shelter and water. More than 13 million Filipinos are said to have been affected by the storm, and four million have lost their homes. The first week of the response was chaotic, due to airports in the region being damaged and local governance structures shattered.

At the main airport in Tacloban on Monday, a heavy loader was shifting pallets of water and sacks of rice to lorries. On the main road, teams were shifting debris into lorries. On Monday, helicopters also flew sorties over remote areas, dropping emergency supplies to villagers. In many villages, there is no space to land, and the helicopters are forced to hover low and drop the cartons to residents straining to remain standing against the downdraft from the rotor blades.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that it had also started distributing aid to residents of Guiuan, Mercedes and Salcedo – shoreline communities in southeastern Samar province that were laid to waste by the super typhoon.

$1bn offered in loans

Military and civilian teams from around the world have arrived to bolster the immediate response by local people and national authorities. The US government and military have been at the forefront in helping one of its Asian allies. The US government’s aid arm announced a further $10m, bringing to $37m the amount it is committed to spending.

That is in addition to around $23 million being provided in grants through the Asian Development Bank, which has also approved a $500 million emergency loan. On Monday, the World Bank said that it would match that loan offer, bringing to total pledged loan to the Philippines to $1 billion. President Benigno Aquino toured the disaster area on Sunday and promised to step up aid deliveries. Aquino, seen as reformist president who had enjoyed considerable public support, has had to deal with a string of crises over the last year. His administration has been criticised by some over its apparent failure to strictly enforce evacuation orders, and he has increasingly taken a hands-on role in responding to the disaster.

Health challenges

Meanwhile, WHO has given warning that there are monumental health challenges facing those affected by the storm. Rising temperatures and rain are providing perfect conditions for diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea to thrive, the WHO said.

Survivors are also being exposed to massive amounts of rubbish and debris, and there are still a large number of decaying dead bodies that have yet to be buried. Security forces are also trying to impose order in Tacloban, the area worst hit by Haiyan, which remains largely without electricity. With a shortage of food and only 10 percent of the police force working in the days after the storm, the city quickly fell into chaos.

A night-time curfew has now been enforced to help restore calm. Many people are also still trying to escape Tacloban, as there remain severe food and water shortages.

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