WHO urges attention to UN flash appeal for Philippines, sends emergency supplies

The World Health Organization (WHO) urges the international community to respond affirmatively to the United Nations' flash appeal for USD 28.6 million of emergency relief for the flood-ravaged southern Philippines.

The tropical storm that struck the area on 16-18 December 2011 left devastation in its wake, mostly in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities on northern Mindanao island. More than 641 000 people have been affected by the ensuing floods, of whom more than 1000 have died, approximately 44 000 are living in evacuation centres and approximately 266 000 are living with relatives or in makeshift shelters.

"The United Nations team and the Government of the Philippines have worked hard to prepare an authoritative assessment of priority needs," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "We appeal to the Member States and our international partners to help the people of the southern Philippines in their hour of suffering and deprivation."

The flash appeal was issued today by the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and WHO Representative in the Philippines, Dr Soe Nyunt-U. Among the priority needs that the appeal identifies are water for drinking and bathing, tents, ready-to-eat foods and hygienic and sanitary equipment and supplies to prevent infectious diseases.

In response to a request from the Government, the World Health Organization today sent emergency supplies to the affected area, including 416 000 bottles of water purification tablets, 20 000 doses of oral rehydration salts and 4000 containers of zinc sulfate for treatment of diarrhoea, 612 litres of hand sterilizer and 498 cadaver bags.

In addition, WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office offered USD 100 000 to the Government for emergency relief. The Government accepted the offer, specifying that it would be used for priority health supplies and equipment. The money will be redirected from the Regional Office's budget.

"All of us at the World Health Organization are deeply saddened by the tragic destruction and loss of life in the southern Philippines and wish to convey our deepest sympathy to President Benigno Aquino III and the Filipino people," Dr Shin says. "WHO stands ready to help in any way possible but especially with the prevention and control of the waterborne and foodborne diarrheal diseases that frequently accompany such natural disasters."

Dr Nyunt-U returned yesterday from a two-day visit to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City and says he is shocked by the scale of the destruction.

"It was as if the cities were hit by an inland tsunami," he said. "Entire areas were completely flattened; only a few sturdy buildings remain standing, and these had sustained a lot of damage. Debris from houses, buildings and other structures that had been destroyed by the storm was all swept out to the sea, leaving huge areas devoid of all traces of habitation."