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Natural Disasters

Medical aid 'urgently needed' in Philippines

Despite a heavily damaged infrastructure, aid agencies are trying to get relief supplies to the people in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines. CARE aid worker Sandra Bulling talks to DW about her impressions.

DW What is the situation like on the ground?

Sandra Bulling: We arrived this morning (November 11) in Ormoc, a city located on Leyte island. As soon as we got off the boat we stepped into the disaster area. The harbor has been devastated. Everywhere you look there is debris. Rooftops are hanging from power lines as if they were towels. You get an impression of the storm's incredible strength as it struck the island. But there is also a lot of activity. The city is full of people standing in long lines waiting for gas, medication, or food.

How difficult was it to reach the disaster area?

We flew from the capital Manila to Cebu and then carried on by ferry. That went relatively smoothly, but now it is difficult to continue. We are on our way to the ravaged city of Tacloban, but we've already spent half a day trying to get some fuel. We've had to stop to get some groceries because we don't know how fast we are going to get to our destination and what the situation will be like in Tacloban. We'll probably have to sleep in the car.

CARE aid worker Sandra Bulling (Photo: CARE)

Bulling: 'There is an increased risk of an epidemic outbreak'

All aid organizations are faced with this problem. It is a journey into the unknown. The media are now focusing on Tacloban, but we have also heard of other towns, which seem to be in a similar situation.

There have been reports about cases of looting and people panicking and becoming violent because they don't have anything to eat. Do you have any idea how long it will take for aid to arrive?

This morning we spoke to the deputy mayor of Ormoc. He told us that the townships were distributing the food they kept in reserve. But he added this food would probably run out by tomorrow and that he was hoping for the first relief supplies to arrive either by tomorrow or the day after.

What do the people need most urgently?

Medical aid is urgently needed – and clean drinking water. Here in Ormoc, for instance, all wells and water canals have been destroyed. People are currently getting their water exclusively from damaged water pipes. But there is also an urgent need for sanitation, as there is an increased risk of an epidemic outbreak. I've heard of more and more people being treated in hospitals, either because of the lack of clean water or because they've lost their homes and have been forced to sleep outside. The third priority is food. People need something to eat, they are desperate and are trying to feed their families

It is believed that the death toll could soar. Currently, the government estimates that as many as 10,000 people may have died. Do you believe this figure could still rise?

It is possible, but it is difficult for me to judge the situation, as we are basically cut off from the outside world here. However, given the scale of the disaster, I believe that the death toll could rise, especially since not all affected towns have been reached. It will be some time before the complete scale of the damage is known.

Sandra Bulling works for the humanitarian aid organization CARE. She is currently in the Philippines on her way to the town of Tacloban.

DW.DE