Canadian disaster-response teams have landed on the Philippine island of Panay, the focal point of Canada's relief efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
By Thursday, soldiers dispatched as part of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, were gathering in Iloilo, a major city and eponymous province on the island. On Friday, DART crews were set to head roughly 100 kilometres north to the coastal community of Roxas, where the Canadian operation will be based, repairing critical infrastructure to pave the way for aid groups.
Canada is also considering sending up to six Griffon helicopters, and hasn't ruled out sending more people – DART can send up to 298. Meanwhile, Citizenship and Immigration staff will consider fast-tracking any visa application, new or existing, from those directly affected by the storm.
Roughly 270,000 families have been affected in Iloilo and Capiz, the two provinces Canada will focus on, with 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
"The people are living in the most squalid conditions, trying to salvage what they can of the remains of their houses," Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Taylor, the DART commander, told reporters Thursday from the Philippines.
The two provinces had evacuated some communities before the typhoon and stockpiled resources, he said, mitigating some of the damage – the provinces weren't among the worst hit. But the supplies are running out, and medication, clean water and sanitation facilities are needed to prevent the spread of disease and illness, Lt.-Col. Taylor said.
"It's really those secondary effects of disaster that DART is oriented to deal with." he said. "Certainly, within the next couple of days, if DART wasn't there, they would be beginning to feel the effects and those numbers of casualties would begin rising quite dramatically due to those secondary effects we're going to be mitigating," he added.
DART will carry out "a large array of different tasks," he said, including clearing and reopening roads, restoring power where possible and filtering clean water. As of Thursday, 64 Canadian soldiers were in the Philippines, with another 54 en route from Canada. Along with two additional Foreign Affairs officials, Canada's contingent stands at 120 people.
"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.
A C-17 cargo plane is carrying the second wave of soldiers and "engineering vehicles and equipment." It's unclear when, or if, up to six helicopters will also be sent to reach small nearby islands. Now that they're on the ground, Canadian crews will sort out "what personnel, supplies and equipment" should be sent to the Philippines. Canada headed to this particular region after a request from the Philippines government.
The Canadian government has pledged $5-million in cash aid to the Philippines, and will match any donations made by Canadians before Dec. 9 to registered charities collecting funds for typhoon-relief programs. The UN has called for $316-million in total international aid.
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.
BEIJING INCREASES AID EFFORTS AFTER PUBLIC SCOLDING
China has announced it is increasing its humanitarian assistance to typhoon victims in the Philippines, after international groups and a Chinese newspaper criticized an initial government donation of $100,000 (U.S.) as too meagre.
State news agency Xinhua said China would provide $1.4-million in relief supplies, including tents and blankets, on top of $100,000 in cash from the government and another $100,000 from the Chinese Red Cross offered earlier this week.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that China had never intended that the amount of assistance will "never change" and had adjusted its contribution according to victims' needs.
"An overwhelming majority of Chinese people are sympathetic with the people of the Philippines," he said.
With a report from the New York Times