(UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency announced on Monday that it is organizing an emergency airlift to the Philippines to help some of the estimated 9.8 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
UNHCR has already released supplies from its warehouse in Cotabato, Mindanao Island, and is transporting to Tacloban 1,400 protection kits and hygiene kits containing basic items such as plastic sheeting, blankets, mosquito nets, soap and underwear.
On Wednesday, a Boeing 747 flight carrying 2,500 tents from UNHCR’s stockpile in Dubai is expected to fly to Cebu. From there, the aid will be taken to the typhoon-affected areas, where they will be distributed by the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development and other partners. Further airlifts are being planned.
“The level of destruction we’re seeing reported is absolutely staggering,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Although UNHCR’s work is usually focused on conflict-related situations, the exceptional nature of this tragic situation requires all possible efforts to get help to people in need, and we will play our full part in the common response to assist those affected.”
Looting, mobbing of relief trucks, and prison breaks have been reported in some affected areas of the Philippines, adding to the trauma of survivors. To help with these and other vital protection needs, UNHCR is immediately deploying an additional emergency team that will include protection experts.
Working closely with the authorities and local communities, UNHCR’s efforts are part of an inter-agency emergency response to the typhoon. In all, it plans to fly in emergency aid for 16,000 families. As part of a coordinated protection response, UNHCR will also distribute 50,000 solar-powered lanterns that can help to mitigate the risks of gender-based violence and enhance the protection of families who have lost their homes.
“Our supplies will target zones devastated by the storm, paying special attention to heightened needs in areas which were already affected by internal conflict, including Eastern Samar, Northern Negros and Masbate surrounding the badly-hit area of Tacloban,” said Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR’s representative in the Philippines. “This could involve setting up a UNHCR presence in Cebu and a logistical hub in Roxas.”
Together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, UNHCR co-leads the protection cluster, looking at issues related to the restoration of civil registration, and ensuring fair and effective services and distribution of aid.
For this emergency response, UNHCR has mobilized US$3 million from its operational reserve in Geneva and will seek a total of US$10 million to provide life-saving aid for three months. It will work closely with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the national Commission of Human Rights to assist people displaced by this natural disaster.
UNHCR traditionally works with conflict-displaced people in Mindanao. It also distributed protection and hygiene kits to 600 families displaced by fighting in Zamboanga and Basilan in September this year.