Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How can we help victims of Typhoon Ondoy?

(Flickr photo by rembcc)

I’m sure this is the top question for so many of the Pinoy Answers community right now. After Typhoon Ondoy raged across Luzon dumping a reported 34 cm of rain, equivalent to a month’s worth of rainfall, in just 6 hours, more than 200 have been reported dead and nearly 300,000 displaced from their homes.

For a quick answer to this pressing question, here’s a list of some very important information for Filipinos everywhere to take part in the relief efforts for Typhoon Ondoy victims:

Philippine toll rises to 246 as new storms brew

MANILA, Philippines – Rescuers pulled more bodies from swollen rivers and debris-strewn streets Tuesday, pushing the toll from flooding in the northern Philippines to more than 284 dead or missing, while two new storms brewing in the Pacific threatened to complicate relief efforts.

Authorities ordered extra police to be deployed to prevent looting in communities abandoned by fleeing residents, as frustration rose among those who have lost their homes or belongings.

Queues of bedraggled victims grew long at hundreds of aid distribution centers as floodwaters subsided further and more people went in search of food, clean water, dry clothes and shelter.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration — sensitive to criticism it did not give sufficient warning of the deluge or was too slow to respond — conceded it was overwhelmed but said it was doing all it could to help.

The homes of nearly 1.9 million people in the capital and surrounding areas were inundated by flooding unleashed by Tropical Storm Ketsana at the weekend, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said. Nearly 380,000 people have sought shelter in schools, churches and other evacuation centers.

AP – A medical patient trapped during the flooding is evacuated by navy personnel after the floodwater subsides …

The council said 246 were confirmed dead late Tuesday, with 38 missing.

Officials appealed for international aid, warning they may not have enough resources to withstand two new storms forecasters have spotted east of the island nation in the Pacific Ocean. One could hit the northern Philippines later this week and the other early next week, although meteorologists say that could change.

Ketsana, which scythed across the northern Philippines on Saturday, dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours, causing the country's worst flooding in 40 years. The storm strengthened into a typhoon mid-Monday and crashed into Vietnam's central coast on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people, officials there said. Some 170,000 people were evacuated from its path.

In the Philippines, authorities rescued more than 12,000 people, but unconfirmed reports of more deaths abound, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

Water that reached shoulder-depth in parts of the capital's streets on Saturday had subsided in many areas by Tuesday. People trudged through ankle-deep sludge to reach shelters where volunteers handed out bottles of water and other items. Elsewhere, people used shovels and brooms to begin mopping-up.

Many people complained the aid was too coming too slowly, and was not enough.

Arroyo said those who suffered had a right to complain but appealed to them to understand that the scale of the disaster was huge.

"We're responding to the extent we can to this once-in-a-lifetime typhoon emergency," she said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Arroyo opened part of the presidential palace as a relief center, where hundreds of people queued Tuesday for packets of noodles and other food donated by companies and individuals. At another center, Arroyo's executive chef cooked gourmet food for victims.

Arroyo and her Cabinet said they would donate two months' salary to the relief effort.

But conditions in many hard-hit areas remained squalid.

In the Bagong Silangan area in the capital, about 150 people sheltered on a covered basketball court that had been turned into a makeshift evacuation center for storm victims. People lay on pieces of cardboard amid piles of garbage and swarming flies, their belongings crammed into bags nearby.

Seventeen white wooden coffins, some of them child-sized, lined one part of the court. A woman wept quietly beside one coffin.

The storm left entire communities covered in mud, cars upended on city streets and power lines cut.

The government declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue. Arroyo would issue an executive order within the week declaring a national holiday as "clean up day," the palace said.

The United States has donated $100,000 and deployed a military helicopter and five rubber boats manned by about 20 American soldiers from the country's south, where they have been providing counterterrorism training. The United Nations Children's Fund and the World Food Program have also provided food and other aid.


Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

RP appeals for foreign aid for ‘Ondoy’ victims

The Philippine government on Monday appealed to the international community for help as it deals with the devastation caused by tropical storm “Ondoy," which battered Metro Manila and nearby provinces last Saturday and left more than a hundred people dead.

The appeal was made by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., also the concurrent head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), on behalf of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“The President authorized me as chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council… to request the international humanitarian community for assistance on behalf of the government of the Philippines," he said in a press briefing at the NDCC office in Camp Aguinaldo.

A total of 140 people were confirmed dead while 32 others were reported missing due to “Ondoy" as of Monday night, according to the NDCC.

Teodoro said they are requesting the office of the United Nations resident coordinator to coordinate an international appeal in behalf of the Philippine government.

“I have just authorized sending out of a flash appeal for assistance," he said.

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This early, Japan has extended Y20-million (P10.478-million) worth of relief goods for those affected by the floods caused by “Ondoy."

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada sent a letter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo expressing his country’s heartfelt sympathy to the loss of many lives and serious damage to property.

"The Government of Japan, in response to the request from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, has decided to provide emergency relief goods equivalent to approximately 20 million yen (approximately US$220,000) to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines," the Japanese Embassy said in a statement on its Web site.

Similarly, Chinese firm Hwawei would donate $30,000 to be used for the relief operations for “Ondoy" victims. This was in addition to the $10,000 earlier given by the Chinese government for disaster relief assistance to the country.

Hwawei’s cash assistance would be personally given to Vice President Noli de Castro on Monday night during the celebration of the 60th Chinese National Day.

“Some of our Filipino friends find it hard, some even impossible, to celebrate with us because of ‘Ondoy’," said Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchiao.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin thanked the Chinese government for its generosity. - GMANews.TV

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama @ G-20

As the world’s leaders discuss the world’s problems in Pittsburgh tomorrow, Steven R. Weisman breaks down what’s at stake—climate change, economic recovery, banking reform.

A century ago Pittsburgh was home to one of the greatest concentrations of millionaires on earth. Their names still rumble with authority: Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, Westinghouse, Heinz and Schwab.

This week the names descending on Pittsburgh are millionaires only in the sense that the global financial crisis forced them to bail out, and effectively own, some of the biggest financial institutions in their countries: Obama, Brown, Sarkozy, Merkel, Hu, Hatoyama and many others.

Their task is to take the measure of the Great Recession and, with more rumble than authority perhaps, reassure us that we are finally heading out of it. Look for them to proclaim that they are readying an overhaul of the global financial system to avoid the next crisis. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, recently was kind enough to say that “even the English” recognize the need for reform.

Some skepticism is in order, and nothing much is expected to be formally decided. But unlike many of these international confabs, this meeting could be an important one for both President Obama and his counterparts in moving the discussion toward some necessary adjustments in the global economy. A little background first:

Some 35 leaders are convening at the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers under the auspices of the Group of 20—G-20 for short. The first thing you will note is that the numbers don’t coincide. This was a party where the 20 main organizers did not want to make too many colleagues feel bad for being left out. The invitation list kept growing and growing.

Why Pittsburgh?

Mr. Obama, who chose the site, says it’s because Pittsburgh “has transformed itself from the city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation—including green technology, education and training, and research and development.”

Could it also be that Pennsylvania is crucial to his presidential campaigns, and that its media outlets also extend to Ohio, another important state struggling to recover from the economic downturn? Just asking.

Here are five main issues to watch:

1) The Obama administration has leaked outlines of its proposal for the summit to approve an agenda of “sustainable and balanced growth” coming out of the recession. What this means for the U.S. is that it is telling China, Japan, Germany and other big exporters not to count on Americans to go into hock while they import foreign goods, as Americans have in the last decade. To some extent this issue is a proxy for the United States’s longtime effort to persuade China to switch from an export-driven to a consumer-driven economy, and to let its currency appreciate and not rely so heavily on flooding other countries with their cheap products, much to the ire of the Congress and the American labor movement. A second aspect of the growth strategy is what it will signal about the intention of the major economic powers to engage in an “exit strategy” from the recent binge of government intervention that was aimed at averting an even worse global meltdown. But not much specifics are expected on when the U.S. will raise interest rates, cut federal spending or reprivatize the American banking system.

2) Speaking of China, trade will be a big and perhaps contentious issue, because the Chinese are still furious over Obama’s recent imposition of tariffs on Chinese tires—and the implicit threat that such tariffs could be slapped on other products like steel, cement, aluminum, paper and many other things if China does not let the value of its currency, the renminbi, rise more than it has against the dollar. Obama has yet to convince global economic powers that he really is in favor of free trade. He’s yet to convince business interests in the United States either. Look for pressure on him in Pittsburgh and how he responds to it.

3) Global warming is another big issue, only a few months away from the big United Nations conference on that subject in Copenhagen. Europeans are alarmed that the Obama cap-and-trade legislation is stalled, while Congress tears itself apart over health care. They are also dismayed that the American legislation appears likely to include a package of protectionist measures to help American industries compete against Chinese and Indian products, if those two countries don’t sign on to a global warming pact. The world leaders also have to reassure poor countries that they will get the financing and development assistance to convert to low-carbon economies. That will come with a big price tag, just as everyone is trying to wind down from the crisis.

4) A deep rift has opened between the Europeans and the Americans over financial regulation, and it will be interesting to see how they resolve or paper over it. The Europeans want strict limits on compensation of banking executives. The Obama administration is resisting their call for pay caps and says the main problem is that institutions “too big to fail” had to be rescued. The administration’s solution: requirements on the minimum amount of capital each bank has to have in relation to its assets and liabilities, along with other limits on their activities. But the administration’s approach is widely viewed, even in Congress, as tepid and meanwhile Wall Street is back to many of its old tricks. Given that most of the world blames the United States for starting this crisis in the first place, look for complaints to be heard from other attendees.

5) The issue most dear to many participants, but not to us civilians, is the future global financial architecture. Should the G-20 become a permanent steering committee for the global economy, replacing the old G-8? Should the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank be given new responsibilities and be forced to give greater governing power to the emerging new economies, especially China, India and Brazil? Should they meet more often? Less often? Never again in Pittsburgh? There might be some signs of progress on this issue, with at least lip service given to the new entrants in the global picture. But of course the real question is whether any of these groups will ever have any power to do anything about the global economy, as opposed to rearranging the deck chairs on the international financial institutions that failed to foresee the crisis this time around.

It will definitely be interesting watching Mr. Obama showing world leaders the sites and sounds of Pittsburgh—which, truth to tell, is a city of many charms and much history. But it is unlikely to serve as more than a three-river diversion from the flood of problems facing him at home, from health care to Afghanistan to the economy. My sense is that on the above issues, some new signals can be sent to resolve the problems at other forums down the road. Meanwhile, the world leaders are no doubt waiting for Obama to emerge as a leader of real stature, more than a tour guide to a steel city with a great past and an uncertain future.

Steven R. Weisman, editorial director and public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, had numerous senior roles at the New York Times, including international economics correspondent, chief diplomatic correspondent, senior White House correspondent and editorial board member. He is the author of The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln to Wilson—The Fierce Battles over Money and Power That Transformed the Nation (Simon and Schuster, 2002).

Dust storm shrouds Sydney, nearly closing airport

SYDNEY – Australia's worst dust storm in 70 years blanketed the heavily populated east coast Wednesday in a cloud of red Outback grit, nearly closed the country's largest airport and left millions of people coughing and sputtering in the streets.

No one was hurt as a result of the pall that swept in overnight, bringing an eerie orange dawn to Sydney, but ambulance services reported a spike in emergency calls from people with breathing difficulties, and police warned drivers to take it easy on the roads.

Dust clouds blowing east from Australia's dry interior — parched even further by the worst drought on record — covered dozens of towns and cities in two states as strong winds snatched up tons of topsoil, threw it high into the sky and carried it hundreds of miles (kilometers).

International flights were diverted from Sydney to other cities — three from New Zealand were turned around altogether — and domestic schedules were thrown into chaos as operations at Sydney Airport were curtailed by unsafe visibility levels. Passenger ferries on the city's famous harbor were also stopped for several hours for safety reasons.

The dust over Sydney had largely cleared by midafternoon, though national carrier Qantas said severe delays would last all day because of diverted and late-running flights.

The dust was still flying further north, however, and the sky over the Queensland state capital of Brisbane was clogged with dust into the early evening.

Such thick dust is rare over Sydney, and came along with other uncommon weather conditions across the country in recent days. Hailstorms have pummeled parts of the country this week, while other parts have been hit with an early spring mini-heatwave, and wildfires.

"It did feel like Armageddon because when I was in the kitchen looking out the skylight, there was this red glow coming through," Sydney resident Karen told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The storms — visible as a huge brown smudge in satellite photographs of Australia on Wednesday — are the most severe since the 1940s, experts said. One was recorded traveling from southern Australia all the way to New Zealand some 1,400 miles (2,220 kilometers) away.

Officials said particle pollution in Sydney's air rose to the worst on record Wednesday, and the New South Wales state ambulance service said it had received more than 250 calls before midday from people suffering breathing problems.

People with asthma or heart or lung diseases were urged not to go outside and to keep their medicine inhalers handy.

"Keeping yourself indoors today is the main thing to do if you have any of those conditions and particularly if you're a known sensitive sufferer such as children, older adults or pregnant women," said Wayne Smith, a senior state health official.

Sydney residents coughed and hacked their way through their morning commute, rubbing grit from their eyes. Some wore masks, wrapped their faces in scarves or pressed cloths over their noses and mouths.

"These dust storms are some of the largest in the last 70 years," said Nigel Tapper, an environmental scientist at Monash University. "Ten very dry years over inland southern Australia and very strong westerlies have conspired to produce these storms."