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Typhoon disaster prompts calls for help and prevention

Supertyphoon Haiyan wrought huge damage on the Philippines, but on the bright side the disaster has spotlighted the unfathomable generosity of companies worldwide and underscored the need for prevention.

International fundraising totals have yet to be released, but initial United States numbers show that more than US$33 million has been raised so far. The US has by far sent the biggest donation to the Philippines among 25 donor countries and international aid agencies.

Help was also forthcoming from Thai companies.

Business units under Toyota Motor worldwide have made donations on top of funds raised from employees' families. The parent company donated 4 million pesos, the American unit $250,000 and the Philippine unit 6 million pesos. Toyota Motor Thailand pitched in Bt3 million.

CIMB Group, through the CIMB Foundation, presented Bt2.45 million to the emergency relief fund to provide medical assistance to 11.3 million survivors.

But more is being asked for to help reconstruct the destroyed areas. The damage to infrastructure and agriculture was estimated at 24.53 billion pesos.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan stressed the immediate need for intervention in the key areas of livelihood, employment, housing and public infrastructure restoration.

"It is important to complete these critical actions as soon as possible," he said. "Otherwise, the already adverse impact of the disaster on poor families could be permanent and intergenerational, especially for families with small children deprived of health and education services."

Balisacan is the relief tsar of an interagency group that is coordinating government plans for typhoon victims.

The United Nations said last week that it will seek more reconstruction funds in addition to the $348 million that UN agencies have sought for immediate relief.

Only about a half of the initial UN appeal has been received since Typhoon Haiyan ploughed through the country on November 8, killing nearly 5,600 people and leaving 1,700 missing and more than 3.8 million displaced. More than 1.1 million houses have been damaged or destroyed.

Orla Fagan of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Manila did not say how much of the additional funds will be needed for the yearlong reconstruction, but that it would entail a massive effort.

"You are talking about an area the size of a European country with a population the size of a European country," she said.

Building a more resilient Asia-Pacific was the key focus of a three-day meeting last week at the Bangkok office of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), bringing together senior government officials from more than 25 countries.

"There will always be natural hazards," she said. "Our Asia-Pacific experience shows that we should expect these in greater numbers, and greater strength, in years to come.

"However, hazards become disasters in the absence of development, and without adequate investment in risk reduction.

"For greater resilience to become a reality, governments need to make disaster risk reduction an integral part of longer-term development plans, across multiple sectors," said Noeleen Heyzer, a UN under-secretary-general and Escap executive secretary.

Also on this occasion, the seismic station in Sittwe was transferred to the Myanmar government.

The station was built from 2009-10 through a project financed by the Escap Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness and implemented by the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia.

Located close to the fault zone where the Burma tectonic plate meets the India plate, it has a central place in tsunami warning systems - not just nationally but also regionally.

Last week, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it was cooperating with the United Kingdom and the Rockefeller Foundation to help Asia's fast growing secondary cities protect their urban poor from the ravages of climate change.

"The region's cities are going through an unprecedented population boom and their poorest citizens are in the front line of an increase in extreme floods, sea level rises and other climate change-linked events," said Gil-Hong Kim, director of sustainable infrastructure at ADB.

"This innovative partnership brings together a private foundation, a bilateral organisation and ADB - a multilateral development bank - to leverage and scale up solutions to protect some of the world's most vulnerable urban communities."

The three partners have agreed to roll out an innovative programme called "Managing Climate Risks for the Urban Poor" to help eventually 25 secondary cities in the region counter the impacts of climate change, with a focus on the disadvantaged.

The first six countries selected for the programme are Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam - all with large urban poor populations.


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