A Change of Guard

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Calamity Watch

Posted by Online on Oct 17th, 2011
Tempo, The Philippines
By Roy C. Mabasa

Manila, Philippines – The United Nations humanitarian chief has voiced great concern over the rising impact of storms and flooding on millions of people across South East Asia, including the Philippines, saying the situation is expected to worsen, with river levels still rising and heavy rainfall forecast.

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos issued the statement over the weekend as other UN agencies went on standby to deliver aid in the devastated region where over 600 people have died and more than eight million others are affected by flooding and typhoons, with the situation expected to worsen amid more rains, high tides and river run-off.

In the Philippines over four million people were reported to have been affected with at least 250,000 needing assistance as a result of three consecutive typhoons that ravaged the country early this month, while in Laos almost 500,000 people were hit by flooding and landslides which was damaged over 64,000 hectares of farmland, 323 roads and 42 bridges.

In Cambodia, where more than one million people were affected and flood waters continue to rise, WHO, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were carrying out assessments together with various ministries and non-government organizations (NGOs). WFP planned to provide 500 tons of food to some 10,000 households with a ration of 50 kilograms for one month.

In Vietnam, where the Government said flooding submerged nearly 60,000 homes and caused an estimated $55 million in crop damage, UNICEF was providing funds for water and sanitation, education, child protection and health and nutrition supplies.

In Thailand, where the UN World Health Organization (WHO) offered to provide emergency health kits and necessary stockpiles, 2.4 million people were reportedly affected, 700,000 of them children, with Bangkok, the capital, and 12 provinces on high alert for heavy rains and overflowing rivers following four back-to-back typhoons.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, although no request for international aid was so far made by affected countries, UN agencies activated assessment teams and contingency planning in the two worst affected countries, Thailand and Cambodia, as well as in Vietnam.

The UNICEF, which before the flood season provided 480,000 water purifying tablets, 5,000 jerry cans and 5,000 bars of soap thoughout the region, cited access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as areas of particular concern.

“I commend the action taken by national governments and emergency responders, which has saved many lives,” said Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“The United Nations and partners stand ready to support those national-led responses where necessary,” she added.

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) also expressed concern over the long-term economic impact of the floods on the affected countries, many of which have seen their infrastructure damaged and their services interrupted by the heavy rains, and said this would be one of the main issues she would focus on during her upcoming visit to the region.

A UNISDR report said floods accounted for a significant amount of damage to public assets such as health and education facilities, as well as to the livelihoods, homes and assets of poor people.

However, most of these losses were not recorded by governments, making it difficult for them to invest in disaster reduction measures, the report said.

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