WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran had a bird's eye view of the destruction inflicted on the greater Manila area on Friday following the succession of tropical storms that recently hit the country, affecting more than 7 million people.
In a 40-minute helicopter ride over the flooded communities that ring the shoreline of Laguna de Bay - the huge lake east of the Philippines capital - Sheeran witnessed the destruction caused by the natural disasters.
"It gave me an opportunity to grasp first hand the enormity of the problems," Sheeran later remarked as she wound up a three-day tour of the stricken country, where she also discussed with government officials the support WFP relief efforts are providing.
During an earlier visit to flooded areas north of Manila, Sheeran noted that WFP's support for the government's relief operations had been made possible by "the generosity of the world", citing as an example the High Energy Biscuits (HEBs) that the agency is distributing to flood-affected families. The HEBs were manufactured in Turkey, purchased by Australia, and flown in by WFP corporate partner TNT.
Sheeran, in the Philippines for a three-day visit to see relief operations at first hand, toured the areas worst affected by flooding with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and WFP’s national ambassador KC Concepcion.
“I am deeply moved by what I have seen here today: streets turned into canals, houses submerged in water. This is a very grave situation,” said Sheeran, who walked through ankle-deep water in the flooded community of San Augustin and later boarded a canoe to inspect damage.
On September 26 Tropical Storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest single day of rains in more than four decades on Manila and surrounding areas, killing 420. Typhoon Parma hit northern Luzon exactly a week later, triggering landslides and floods that left at least 438 people dead.
"Ovecome the calamity"
According to the Government, Ketsana affected 4.3 million people and Parma 3.1 million. The two storms hit the rice-growing areas of Luzon particularly hard. The government reports that 839,000 metric tons of yet-to-be-harvested paddy rice were ruined.
As WFP and the government push ahead with relief operations to help flood-hit communities, the northern island of Luzon is waiting to see whether a new typhoon - dubbed Lupit - will hit later this week, further complicating matters.
Sheeran assured the Philippines president of continued support in coming weeks and months. “The world and WFP is here to support the government’s efforts to help the people of the Philippines overcome this calamity. I have no doubt that together, we can.”