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Philippine Govt under attack over flood response

As entire suburbs of Manila remain under water and evacuees wait in vain for food a week after deadly floods, the Philippine government is drawing anger over not being prepared for the disaster.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2009 10:31 IST

As entire suburbs of Manila remain under water and evacuees wait in vain for food a week after deadly floods, the

Philippine government is drawing anger over not being prepared for the disaster.

Sanitation including toilet facilities for about half a million people in temporary evacuation centres remain dismal, increasing the risk of disease, while debris is still piled on the streets and clogging drains.

Even President Gloria Arroyo has flashed her irritation at the government's response since tropical storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rains in 40 years on the nation's capital on September 26.

"This is not good enough in a time of crisis," she admonished one official late last week during a nationally televised meeting of government administrators to discuss the relief efforts.

Critics say successive governments of the impoverished Southeast Asian country of 92 million people have failed to adequately prepare for the earthquakes and typhoons that inevitably come its way given its location.

"In a land lashed by no less than 20 storms during the typhoon season, we have not built up a disaster relief mechanism," political analyst Amando Doronilla wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"From the first hours of the flood, the government failed to exist. The army and police were caught off-guard. They ran out of inflated rubber boats to rescue people stranded in their homes or carried away by flood waters."

The Philippines is ranked by global graft watchdog Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and many are questioning the government's spending priorities.

"I've been wondering why of all the billions and billions of assistance we get from foreign countries and the trillions of budget we allocate annually, we barely have enough rubber boats and rescue equipments," blogger Ryan Canlas wrote, echoing the anger being vented by many online and in local media.

"The government could have saved more lives and fulfilled its mandate to protect the lives of Filipinos if only it had the resources and the political will to do so!"

The official death toll from the floods stands at 293, although dozens more are missing.

Arroyo and other officials have pointed out that Ketsana dumped more rainfall in nine hours on Manila than Hurricane Katrina unleashed on New Orleans in 2005, implying there was only so much the government could do.

But the slow and sometimes uncoordinated response is hard to accept for many of the people still in makeshift evacuation centres after the floods destroyed their homes.

At a school being used as an evacuation camp in Marikina east of Manila, housewife Lori Santos late last week cooked her family's last supply of rice for lunch after skipping breakfast to stretch their meagre supply of food.

Asked what would go with the staple, the 50-year-old shrugged and stared blankly at the wall of the classroom her family shared with six other families.

"Nothing," she whispered. "There was no delivery of relief goods since yesterday and we have no money to buy food."
Evacuees in all of the camps visited by AFP over the past week said conditions were unbearable.

Apart from food, flood survivors said they also needed mats, mosquito nets, blankets and ointment for scabs and athlete's foot, common diseases caused by wading in dirty flood waters.

Residents who continue to live in their partially flooded homes have also complained of receiving little government help, and are being forced to fend for themselves.

In Taytay town east of Manila, resourceful residents use makeshift rafts -- including inflatable beds and even refrigerators -- to ferry other people through the floods, charging 30 pesos (64 US cents) for each trip.

"No help has reached us yet. It's only photographers who have come here," residents in Taytay shouted to a group of photojournalists.