U.N. chief Ban visits typhoon-hit Philippines

AP

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday visited central Philippine villages that were decimated by Typhoon Haiyan, and promised to try to raise at least $800 million in aid to help the region recover from last month’s devastating storm.

Children who survived the Nov. 8 typhoon welcomed Ban by singing “Jingle Bells” at a school in worst-hit city, Tacloban. Accompanied by U.N. and Philippine officials, Ban clapped his hands and swayed playfully, telling the children: “Please hold on. Don’t despair. We have come to help you.”

Although he stayed for only about two hours, Ban was the most prominent world leader to visit the vast wasteland of debris and wrecked villages left by Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to slam into land on record. The typhoon killed at least 6,100 people, with more than 1,700 others still listed as missing. It injured 27,000 people and damaged or swept away more than 1 million homes.

“I’m standing here with a very heavy and sad heart,” Ban told reporters as he stood beside huge mounds of muddy debris and toppled posts in Tacloban’s Fatima district. He said the destruction he saw was “beyond description.”

More than 200 heavily armed police secured the road Ban’s long convoy took from Tacloban’s airport. Along the way, the U.N. chief saw wrecked villages, toppled posts and tent encampments housing thousands of homeless survivors.

Wearing a blue cap, rubber shoes and a khaki shirt, Ban waved at crowds, stopping to tell survivors, “Don’t lose hope, don’t lose hope.”

Ban flew to Tacloban after meeting with President Benigno Aquino III and other top officials in Manila to discuss recovery and reconstruction efforts. He said foreign governments needed to chip in to rebuild the country’s typhoon-wrecked regions.

He said the United Nations is trying to raise at least $800 million over the next 12 months and provide life-saving support, such as food, water, shelter and sanitation. It will also help craft a long-term development strategy.

About $237 million, or 30 percent, of the fund has already been raised, according to a U.N. statement. The Philippine government will focus on resettling the displaced and repairing infrastructure, Ban said.

Aquino appealed earlier in the week for international aid, saying the destruction and losses from the typhoon amounted to about $12.9 billion.