Canadian troops are hours away from departing to the Philippine village where the country’s aid effort will be focused.
The government announced Thursday that officials will focus efforts in the coastal city of Roxas on Panay Island, north of the large city of Iloilo that was announced earlier as Canada’s home base. Altogether, Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, will focus on two provinces, Iloilo and Capiz, where roughly 270,000 families have been displaced.
Canada’s 64 soldiers that have so far responded to the disaster are currently spread through Manila and Iloilo, with another 54 en route from Canada. Beginning daybreak Friday – Thursday evening in Canada – they’ll he headed to Roxas, with a handful staying in Iloilo for logistical support.
“It’s neither our aim nor our capability to reach all of those... but fortunately we’re not the only show in town,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Taylor, who is leading Canada’s DART unit. He said the area isn’t one of the worst-hit, but is running out of supplies and saw two key industries – fishing and agriculture – wiped out by Typhoon Haiyan.
“The people are living in the most squalid conditions, trying to salvage what they can from their houses,” Lt.-Col. Taylor said Thursday from the Philippines.
The 118 Canadian soldiers include engineers and medics, but will be focusing on clearing roads, repairing generators, bottling clean water and fixing other infrastructure work to help other aid workers in the area.
“The main objective is to get food, water, medicine and shelter to devastated areas as quickly as possible,” said Christian Paradis, Canada’s Minister of International Development, speaking in Ottawa on Thursday to outline the government’s response to date.
Another two Foreign Affairs staff were sent to the Philippines after the disaster, raising Canada’s total contingent so far to 120 people. DART can deploy up to 298 soldiers, though help may be sent from other parts of the military. For instance, Canada is considering whether to send between three and six Griffon helicopters to help in the response.
About 100,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in the two areas Canada is responding to, Lt.-Col. Taylor said. The area’s governors had prepared for the storm, stockpiling supplies and evacuating some residents. “Those supplies have all but run out now,” Lt.-Col. Taylor said, adding: “Certainly, within the next couple of days, if DART wasn’t there, they’d begin feeling the effects” of the shortages of supplies, he said.
The next wave of 54 soldiers left Ontario’s CFB Trenton Wednesday evening, in a C-17 cargo plane also carrying “engineering vehicles and equipment,” the department said.
Canada headed to Iloilo and Roxas after a request from the Philippines government. Once on the ground, the National Defence department said crews will determine “what needs the Government of Canada can fill and what personnel, supplies and equipment” should be sent overseas.
The Canadian government has pledged $5-million in cash aid to the Philippines as well, while the UN has called for $316-million in total international aid for the typhoon-ravaged nation. Canada’s federal government will also match any donations made by Canadians before Dec. 9 to registered charities collecting funds for typhoon relief programs.
Canada has also said it will consider fast-tracking immigration applications for those directly affected by the typhoon – including tourist visas, student visas, Temporary Foreign Worker cases and residency applications, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Thursday. Departmental officials will consider fast-tracking both new and existing applications, he added.
“We are going to process those applications on a priority basis, so that those applicants who in many cases have lost family members, loved ones, property, livelihood – so that they can come to Canada and benefit from everything this country has,” he said.
He called on members of Canada’s Filipino community to tell the government about individual cases that should be considered for fast-track approval. Mr. Alexander said he did not expect fast-tracking cases in the Philippines to slow the processing of applications from other countries.