"Chaotic" aid distribution more than a week after Philippine quake

More than one week after a killer quake struck the central Philippines, killing nearly 200 and displacing tens of thousands, many areas remain unreached by aid workers amid fears of dwindling food and relief supplies.

Philippine Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang told IRIN at least one local mayor on Bohol Island - the quake's epicentre - had “rudely demanded” the Red Cross turn over their relief items to him so he could distribute them himself. When they refused, she said, they were ordered to leave the town of Maribojoc, one of the devastated areas near the 7.2 magnitude quake.

"We have some food and water, but it will not last long. We can fetch water from wells, but the water is not as clean as it used to be," said Serafin Magallen as he waited for rations on the broken highway in Getafe, a municipality on the island, as dozens near him flagged down vehicles asking for help.

Some wrote "help us" signs on the highway in big bold letters, so helicopters could spot them from above and direct aid.

"People are hungry, are out in the cold and many have yet to bury their dead, but officials are fighting over relief goods," Magallen said. "They should end this now and allow these goods to reach us."

The quake, the strongest to hit the disaster-prone country in recent years, struck Bohol on 15 October. Felt across several neighbouring provinces, more than 2,500 aftershocks have rippled through the region since.

The earthquake killed at least 195 people, mostly in Bohol, a popular tourist spot, said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, adding that of the nearly three million people affected, 344,000 are displaced in 99 evacuation sites or with their friends and relatives.

The quake wrecked some 45,000 homes, as well as dozens of bridges and roads, making it difficult for relief workers to reach survivors. Dozens of heritage sites, including centuries-old Catholic churches, hospitals, schools and government and private offices were destroyed, with damage to infrastructure currently estimated at around US$23 million.

President Benigno Aquino, speaking to reporters on 22 October, acknowledged that while officials were aiming to reach isolated communities, upland villages were still without power.

Even restored electricity does not mean safe running water, according to an update of quake relief efforts compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 21 October.

It said that while most downed bridges and roads were repaired as of 20 October, “far-flung” communities were still difficult to reach and that “widespread damage to infrastructure, public buildings and utilities” has resulted in limited distribution of emergency shelter.

"I was given the assurance there is no community that is not being taken care of," said President Aquino, adding that supplies enough for two weeks for each family were being airlifted or shipped to the quake- ravaged island.

Hoarding allegations

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, in a statement, said he had ordered the national police to check reports that some local officials in Bohol had been “hoarding" relief goods and distributing them selectively only to supporters.

"It is not right for officials to keep these relief goods. If this is proven, those who hoarded goods should be punished," he said.

Roxas said local officials from the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported to him that many residents have not received relief goods, singling out the incident in which the Red Cross was told to leave for refusing to hand over relief items to one mayor.

He said nearly 100,000 family food packs have been taken to quake zones.