Britain is to deploy one warship, the Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring, which is currently on station near Singapore, and RAF support aircraft, including one Boeing C17 transporter, to the Philippines. The US has deployed a carrier group.
It will take HMS Daring 5 days or so to reach its destination. It will provide engineering equipment, first aid, water sanitising kits and the means to turn sea water into drinking water. Most reports from the disaster area warn of the threat of waterborne disaster, so HMS Daring’s supplies will be very welcome. The destroyer is also equipped with one Lynx helicopter, which will extend its operational reach inland. The RAF will be responsible for delivering £10 million worth of resources pledged by the Department for International Development. The imperative is to deliver emergency supplies of food, medicine, building materials and power generators.
The major challenge is to restore communications to ensure that aid can be distributed. The Philippines archipelago contains 2,000 inhabited islands, many of which are comparatively undeveloped. Terrestrial and satellite phone networks appear to have been damaged. The power supply has been widely curtailed. Road and rail connections have been affected. The islands are usually linked by boats; but many of those have been left unseaworthy by the typhoon. Some airports are functioning (indeed, there are grim reports of hordes of survivors attempting to board departing flights), so maximising the ‘lift capacity’ of available helicopters and light aircraft is paramount.
When communications fail; law and order suffers. Reports of looting following in the wake of the disaster suggest that Philippine law enforcement has been overwhelmed in some places. This crime wave is inevitable: survivors are desperate. But relief efforts are likely to be impeded – and in that event there will be more suffering and death – unless order is restored. It is not clear what, if anything, western governments and aid agencies can do in the immediate term to help in this respect.