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UN: Typhoon-ravaged Philippines is 'Major Emergency'

International Relief Efforts Picking up in Typhoon-Hit Philippines
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International Relief Efforts Picking up in Typhoon-Hit Philippines

International humanitarian officials are grappling with the challenges of trying to get help into the typhoon-ravaged Central Philippines while people on the ground grow more desperate for food, clean water and medicines. The United Nations is putting out a call for $301 million.

The United Nations says the greatest needs in the central part of the country are food, water, shelter, medicine and clearing up debris. Officials estimate the relief plan's cost at $301 million.

In Manila Tuesday, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said the magnitude of this crisis is “at the very top” of the U.N.’s scale for measuring the impact of emergencies.

“It’s been extremely difficult even to get a sense of what the immediate needs are because it’s been very difficult to get to some of the areas affected," Amos said.

Electricity in some provinces remains completely out. In others it is only partially restored. Communications links are slowly improving but many are still trying to reach loved ones on the phones.

As aid groups struggle to deliver food, water and medicine to the some 600,000 people displaced by the crisis, reports from areas in the disaster zone say the situation is getting desperate.

There have been reports of aid trucks being stopped before they can get to their designated locations, grocery stores and malls have been looted. On Tuesday, a mob of about 3,000 people broke through the fence of the airport in Tacloban to meet a military plane delivering provisions.

The U.N. appeal is for its action plan which includes 15 projects that support the government’s civil defense, health and social services.

The other challenge of trying to give aid has been coordination among those doing the giving.

The U.N. is urging aid agencies to go through a logistics briefing once they arrive at the airport in Tacloban, one of the hardest hit cities. The interior minister told a local news outlet people arriving at the airport and wanting to bring aid have at times ended up waiting to find out where and how they can help.

More than two dozen governments have offered support in the form of funding, humanitarian aid as well as military assets.

Philippines presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the support of the international community has been tremendous.

“Certainly it gives us comfort that we are not alone in this fight- in rehabilitating in the affected areas and in providing relief goods. Therefore we are very thankful for the countries who have pledged assistance to us,” he said.

Aid agencies say efforts are “scaling up” as scores of countries pledge money, resources and personnel to help deal with the crisis. But getting the aid to those who need it most remains the biggest hurdle.