The United Nations is appealing for $74 million to provide emergency assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims of two catastrophic typhoons that have struck the Philippines in less than two weeks.
The Philippines government estimates that nearly four million people have been affected by Typhoon Ketsana, which struck the capital, Manila, and surrounding areas on September 26th.
To compound the situation, a second devastating storm, Typhoon Parma, made landfall in northern Luzon on October 3 and 4. The impact of that storm was not as great as Ketsana, but the United Nations warns that its effects will likely worsen the flooding already occurring.
The Philippines government puts the number of people dead from Typhoon Ketsana at about 300, with dozens of others missing. The United Nations says an estimated 420,000 people are living in emergency shelters around Manila.
Tropical Storm Parma occurred in an isolated farming region, so there was limited loss of life. But the United Nations says there was major crop damage. The World Food Program, or WFP, is part of a joint U.N. team assessing the needs of the victims.
Spokeswoman Emilia Cassela says one of the WFP aid workers gave a graphic account of what he saw.
"He says he traveled by boat to reach the beneficiaries," she said. "What he saw was, at best, heartbreaking. The people were receiving the assistance standing or waiting in almost neck deep water and the only way to reach these people was by boat. The boats were being used to pass the food assistance to the people."
Casella says the WFP is expanding assistance to feed up to one-million people during the next three months. In addition, the agency is providing air support for the humanitarian community. She says the WFP will receive almost one-third of the $74 million U.N. appeal.
The World Health Organization reports there has been extensive damage to hospitals and health clinics throughout the flooded areas. It says that, so far, there have not been any major outbreaks of disease.
But the WHO says the fear of epidemics is rising because of the lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation, and desperate living conditions.
The U.N. Children's Fund says it too is concerned about the risk of epidemics and their potential impact on children and lactating women. It says it has delivered hundreds of hygiene kits and is disseminating information about best hygiene practices.
The United Nations says food, water, sanitation and hygiene relief remain the highest priorities.