It's another complicated and tough day in the Philippines

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Help has arrived, but most of it has yet to reach those who need it most. That's still the news out of the Philippines today. Much of the international aid that's pouring into the country is piling up on cargo ships and airport tarmacs and the Philippine government continues to scramble to set up a secure distribution system. So for many survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the wait for food, water, and medical supplies just goes on. The BBC's Jonathan Head is in the city of Tacloban.

Jonathan Head: We've seen two large Philippines naval ships come into port. The port is undamaged and quite substantial and the reason it's not been used up to now is because the road from the port to the city center has been so covered in debris it was simply impassable, but that's now been cleared enough for them to bring in quite substantial amounts of help. Still nothing near what's needed. There are 200,000 people here who've got nothing and had nothing for a whole week. Out at the airport, the U.S. Marine task force that is going to be operating this massive airlift has pretty much taken over the airport there. Now the airport was very badly damaged. It's right next to the sea. It was completely swamped by the storm surge. The runway's fine, but the rest of the airport is in total ruins and so the Marines are having to bring in all their own infrastructure and that's what they've been doing during the day to set up the logistics and communications they need to take this airlift work. We've seen a lot of aerial activity. A lot of Seahawk helicopters, Ospreys, and C-130s coming in and they've stressed that this is what they have to do. They've got to get their personnel in before they can start bringing in large pallets of food aid and medical aid and then start taking them out and not just to this city, but to the many areas around Tacloban that are just as hard hit. What isn't happening yet is large amounts of food going into the city. So just as we're seeing an aid operation coming in, there's increasing panic and nervousness among the people of this city and I've spoken to many people today who've just had enough. They've been through the most ghastly ordeal. Many of them have lost large numbers of family members and then they've been surviving, waiting for help to come, and it hasn't.

Werman: Were you able to witness any of that aid distributed to people themselves? I mean, is it actually getting to them right now?
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Head: We know that the local government has now, among the ruins of the city, managed to establish defensible distribution centers. Places where the Army can guard the food supplies and can organize a distribution, but there aren't very many of those places and they need a lot more of them and they need the roads to be clearer. There are far more police on the roads doing that, getting rid of the debris, but there's mountains of it. They've got nowhere to put it. I don't think that there's any doubt that the aid that is coming in is getting out to people, but there's, you know. We saw 13 tons come off a landing craft today. That sounds like a lot, but when you've got 200,000 people to feed and to give drinks to, that's not very much at all. So any, even if it's sufficiently distributed, what we've seen so far won't get to anything like enough people.

Werman: I've also been reading really disturbing reports of body removal. Or rather, the lack of body removal. What is the process right now when transportation isn't working? There's no water, no electricity. There's no morgue, presumably. Can they be buried in Tacloban or is the dirt too shallow?

Head: It's a rather crude process. There are basically mass graves in which bodies have been tipped. In many case, before they've been identified. They don't have any other way of dealing with them. They have been left out for a very long time. Now you see far more organized body collection teams going around with trucks. They do have body bags and they're picking them up and then they're being put in mass graves, but of course for a lot of people here there will be a lingering trauma about not finding people who are missing. Not knowing whether they went into a mass grave, they got washed out to sea. That not knowing will be very, very stressful and I think, given the fact the authorities don't seem to have any other way of dealing with it. The lack of documentation of bodies. The fact they're just dumping them in graves will be another pain and burden for people who've already lost a lot to bear.

Werman: The BBC's Jonathan Head in Tacloban. Philippines authorities say they're doing their best under extraordinary circumstances. The World's Leo Hornak spoke earlier with Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala. He's a spokesman for the Philippines military. Zagala admitted there have been serious problems, but said aid delivery and security are slowly improving on the ground.

Ramon Zagala: As the days gone by and more Philippine National Police have been deployed and more soldiers have been deployed, we're able to stabilize the area and to return law and order. However, that's not yet 100%. It's still a challenge that we get all the areas back on its normal state and, of course, we're not able to do that right away.

Leo Hornak: As I'm sure you're aware, there has been criticism in the Philippine media about the advance of assistance that the Philippine government and the Philippine state has offered to the survivors. Do you feel that's a fair criticism so far?

Zagala: Well we recognize that it is really a daunting task. This kind of tragedy has never happened before and that we accept the criticism. Of course, we're doing our best and we know that there are more challenges ahead and we'd like to seek everyone's understanding and patience.

Hornak: But you do accept that criticism?

Zagala: Yes, we do and we understand that people are going hungry. People are desperate. That's why it is very imperative for us to move faster and that we are doing.

Hornak: If you had a message for any survivors in the Philippines who maybe are waiting for assistance at this moment, what would that message be?

Zagala: Please hang on tight. We are on our way. We know that the situation is difficult and we will be there for you.

Werman: Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala of the Philippine military. The Philippine government does have a lot to answer for when it comes to the slow pace of aid delivery, but the relief effort is huge and it involves many other organizations as well. Like the World Health Organization. I asked spokesman Gregory Hartl to explain what the WHO is doing in the Philippines.

Gregory Hartl: WHO has two roles in this relief effort. First of all, it supports the Philippine Ministry of Health. It's called the Department of Health with technical advice, with actual personnel in the operation center there. And the second role is that it coordinates on behalf of the United Nations system, all incoming health-related materials, personnel, equipment, medicines, etcetera. So those are the two principle roles.

Werman: What are the challenges your people are facing on the ground at this point?

Hartl: As everyone in the world now has seen by now with the pictures, this is an absolutely gigantic disaster. It's probably the worst typhoon ever to have hit the Philippines. If not in the world, full stop. It is basically the equivalent, because of the Philippines geography, of eight separate disasters because it's effected a number of major islands in the central of the Philippines and it means that you have to recreate an infrastructure for the reception and distribution of aid on each one of those islands. Or maybe on two points on some of the islands.

Werman: And yet the response, even officials recognize, that it has been very slow in relation to the scale of the disaster. Why is that?

Hartl: Well, I'm not so sure the response has been slow in relation to the scale. Let's say it's better to say maybe the response has been the way it has been because of the scale. The scale is absolutely enormous. We know, for example, that 20 foreign medical teams are or have arrived in the country and, if you think about 20 field hospitals coming into a single airport at the same time, along with all of the food supplies, along with all of the shelter supplies that is going to create huge bottlenecks and these bottlenecks are starting to get unblocked. For example, we now both have hospitals set up in Cebu and in Tacloban. There are five now. I think three in Tacloban and two in Cebu. So things are starting to move and services are starting to be provided again, but remember what had to happen before anything else was there's no electricity. There's no water. There's no nothing in Tacloban, for example, and so the most basic infrastructure had to be reconstructed. Roads had to be cleared. The airport had to be cleared before anyone could land there. And then, secondly, to get that help out beyond the airport meant clearing roads. So this is a monumental process.

Werman: Gregory Hartl, spokesperson with the WHO in Geneva. Thank you for your time.

Hartl: Thank you.

Werman: That monumental process of getting aid to the Philippines extends to places far from the affected region to anywhere basically where donations are being accepted or where aid workers are getting ready. Like here in Boston. WGBH reporter Ibby Caputo spent some time with a group of disaster medicine doctors from Boston as they prepared to head out. She found that the logistics are overwhelming before anyone even sets foot on a plane.

Ibby Caputo: Heading off to the Philippines now is kind of like going on a really intense camping trip.

Gregory Ciottone: There's a few very important things. One of them is a Camelback. Make sure you have that.

Caputo: Doctor Gregory Ciottone directs the disaster medicine training program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He spoke yesterday on a conference call with four doctors who are about to leave for the Philippines. A Camelback full of water is just the beginning.

Ciottone: Make sure you have the chlorine tablets. Chlorine tablets or a microfilter. Very important. And finally make sure you have some self-generated electricity. There's not going to be a lot of electricity there. It's going to get very, very dark at night. Alright? So have some sort of self-charging, preferably, or battery-powered illumination device.

Caputo: And then there are medical supplies. Each doctor has to bring his own. Enough to last the first few days before reinforcements come in from a partner organization already in the Philippines. They also need to bring a tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, mosquito net, a GPS device, and dental floss. Kind of like duct tape for a disaster zone. And like a camping trip-

Ciottone: You should be able to keep all of your equipment in a bag that goes on your back and not have any bag to carry. It should be everything in a backpack or what I used to use is actually military duffel bag that I carried on my back.

Caputo: Some of the doctors are worried about security in the Philippines. Ciottone tells them to stick together and he gives them the name of a guy they can call in case of emergency.

Ciottone: He will drop everything and anything and come to get you immediately if you're in any kind of trouble and he is that level of security. He's the kind of security that we used in Haiti. Former special operations guy and he's tied into a huge and very robust network.

Caputo: It's that type of network and networking tying the entire global response in the Philippines together. For The World, I'm Ibby Caputo in Boston.

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