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Getting help to Mindanao

Unlike last year’s typhoon Sendong, the response to the calamity in Mindanao after typhoon Pablo seems to be slower and tentative.

Both occurred in December, weeks shy of Christmas.

Relief drives were kicking up a storm of their own last year after Sendong, and donations accumulated quickly in drop-off centers with civic groups jumping forward to hold concerts and rallying members to give a little more for storm victims.

Why the pause?

One reason could be the lack of more vivid images and comprehensive reports about the extent of damage and suffering in Davao del Norte and the Compostela Valley to trigger a public’s compassion — not for lack of trying.

The towns of Cateel and Boston in Davao del Norte and New Bataan in Compostela Valley , previously promoted as “typhoon-free” areas, were slammed so badly that road access is a serious problem on a scale not seen before.

For once, we’re hearing a call out for companies to lend private helicopters and planes.

Usually, battle-tested photographers and cameramen are the first to reach a calamity site and come back with heart-wrenching images of the state of suffering. After one week, the news media visuals are still limited. That’s a clue that the situation is at a new low.

An ABS-CBN anchor in Cebu commented that the flow of donations only started to pick up after the network aired video footage of what they had of the disaster scene.

There’s no shortage of Good Samaritans out there ready to offer help but the logistical challenges of getting goods and services to the worst-off victims isolated in communities whose roads are torn up or blocked by debris have many wondering whether the national government and the armed forces are channeling enough resources to get help on site.

Alvin Santillana, Cebu city disaster operations chief, who came back from a quick visit to Compostela Valley, described scenes that require more careful thinking about what kind of help ordinary citizens can give.

Food and water are scarce or unfit for human consumption, he said. Most of the families are homeless.

“Everything is down on the ground. They are in a very sorry state. What they need is food that can be readily eaten,” he said.

Those who think the standard relief aid of sacks of rice and canned goods with used clothing are welcome, should take a reality check from his feedback

He said there’s no potable water for people to use for cooking or evenkitchen utensils.

Hunger is an urgent problem.

Give ready-to-eat food, said Santillana, like juice and milk packs.

The people need “something sweet to give them energy in the day” and towels which can serve as a pillow at night or protect them from the extreme heat.

Most buildings have been flattened and the trees are gone, so there’s no shade for the instant refugees.

The other urgent call is for volunteers, not just a goodwill mission to escort donations, but experts who can be of help, like psychologists and counselors.

He said the trauma suffered by the survivors is as urgent as the need for food.

Cebu being the hub of inter-island shipping has several shipping lines like Gothong Southern Shipping and George and Peter Lines offering their vessels to ferry emergency goods and donations for free. But after they reach the port, the journey inland to isolated disaster sites is a different story.

In a crisis of this magnitude, we need the Government to show leadership and throw the weight of its resources so that citizens who are so ready to pitch in will know how best to marshal their own contributions to save lives and communities.

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Tags: Mindanao , relief operations , weather disasters

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