Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath: The Philippines scrambles to stem public health crisis

9:14 AM, Nov 12, 2013   |    comments
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ORMOC, Philippines (USA TODAY) -- The race to save survivors and bring relief to typhoon-ravaged areas of the Philippines escalated Tuesday as the United Nations appealed for as much as $301 million in aid, and several nations deployed supply ships in an attempt to ward off the growing threat of a public health crisis.

Four days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippines, killing an estimated 10,000 people and displacing as many as 800,000, assistance is only just beginning to arrive.

See Also: How you can help Typhoon Haiyan survivors

"We worry about whether our medical supplies will be enough for the people. We also worry about disease breaking out, especially up in Tacloban, where so many died," dentist Mariecon Dayandayan, 26, who has been assisting doctors treating residents injured in Friday's mega-storm, told USA TODAY.

Ormoc, on the western side of hard-hit Leyte Island, is a mess of fallen trees and other debris, while power and telecoms cables lie underfoot or hang perilously at head height across many streets.

Dayandayan said that the city's health office has a generator, so is able to keep cool its badly needed vaccines, including for tetanus. "Some other hospitals and clinics are damaged and have no electricity, so they are not operating," she said.

Speaking to reporters in Manila on Tuesday, Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s under-secretary for general humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said: "We've just launched an action plan focusing on the areas of food, health, sanitation, shelter, debris removal and also protection of the most vulnerable with the government and I very much hope our donors will be generous. That plan is for $301 million."

The U.N. estimates that as many as 2.5 million people are in need of food.

"There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities," Amos said.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it was sending an aircraft carrier to the area to assist in relief efforts and the United Kingdom has also said it is sending ships and aircraft to the region for humanitarian assistance. The USS George Washington is expected to arrive within 48 hours.

According to data published on the website of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, 29 nations have so far pledged aid worth approximately $54 million. The U.N. previously released $25 million in emergency assistance. The U.N.'s World Food Program is sending 40 tons of high energy biscuits. The U.N. has called the scale of destruction "unprecedented."

The official death toll from the disaster rose to 1,774 on Tuesday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate, and might even be low. More than 9 million people have been affected across a large swath of the country, many of them made homeless.

The longer survivors go without access to clean water, food, shelter and medical help, the greater chance of disease breaking out and people dying as a result of wounds sustained in the storm.

Communication outages are said to be making coordination with local government departments a major problem in the relief effort.

"We are organized. We have command and control. But how do we call the department of social welfare, the department of health, the department of public works and highways?" Army Brig. Gen. Virgilio Espineli, the deputy regional military commander, said Tuesday