Starvation and severe malnutrition threaten 450,000 Filipino victims of recent disastrous typhoons because of inadequate food aid from foreign and local sources, the director of the largest private relief agency in the Philippines, the Catholic Relief Services, said today.
In an interview, Francis Carlin said three people have died from eating wild roots in Siargao Island in Surigao, in northeastern Mindanao, the province hardest hit when Typhoon Ike slammed into the Philippines a month ago.
Severe malnutrition among children is becoming apparent in many remote areas that have not yet received any form of relief, Carlin said. Diplomats and officials from international aid agencies who have visited those affected areas say villagers have no money for transport or to buy rice.
Typhoon Ike and the earlier Typhoon June affected 2.4 million Filipinos in the north and central Philippines. Of these, Carlin said, 450,000 are said to be the hardest hit.
"I see mass starvation and severe malnutrition unless adequate food and shelter are provided immediately," he said.
Catholic Relief Services receives 75 percent of its funds from the U.S. government and operates the largest relief network in the Philippines through the Roman Catholic Church.
Carlin estimated the total foreign and local donations of food, medicine and cash at about $23 million, which, he said, is inadequate.
Of this, $18 million came from foreign governments such as the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, West Germany and Belgium and international aid agencies. The financially strapped Philippine government provided $4 million and another $1.5 million was raised from local charities.
Carlin said he requested three months' supply of rice or $7.5 million, but today received only $2.2 million, or enough to buy one month's supply of rice, from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.S. Embassy here gave $50,000 cash to the Philippine government and AID is providing another $1 million to rebuild electricity lines in Surigao.
But Carlin said what is needed is food. "I am not talking about the absence of resources. I am talking about inadequate resources," said Carlin.
Philippine Minister for Social Services and Development Sylvia Montes has denied earlier reports of starvation or lack of food and said the problem was one of logistics.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Manila representative Stephen Umemoto said the outer islands are not receiving enough attention partly because of disruption in transportation.
The most critically affected victims, relief officials say, have no resources because the winds have destroyed their crops and houses. The victims are living in "lean-tos," makeshift shelters made of planks and palm leaves.
International relief agencies here said there has been no report so far of foreign aid being diverted. Most foreign governments gave their donations to private Filipino or international agencies.
The only case of diversion reported so far involved 500 bags of rice donated by Surigao's province governor, Jess Tino, which were commandeered by a local politician, a foreign aid official said.