Typhoon Haiyan: Informal supply chains help feed typhoon survivors

TACLOBAN (AFP) - Supplementing the quickening relief effort trying to help survivors of the Philippines typhoon is an informal - and sometimes underground - supply chain that is helping some people put food on the table.

Families from as far away as Manila and the southern island of Mindanao endure long journeys by air, sea and land to bring food packs, tents, medicines and other materials to affected relatives.

Friends stay with friends and communities share whatever they have, especially if a neighbour has babies, children or elderly members.

Mrs Marife Sumapig and her family have received only one food pack since Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, smashed through the central Philippines on November 8, leaving more than 5,000 dead and millions homeless.

The aid package contained four kilograms (nine pounds) of rice, some cup noodles and two cans of sardines - barely enough for a few days.

"But despite getting help only once, we have not gotten hungry so far.

There seems to be food on the table every day," she told AFP from her damaged house in the city of Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit places.

"Today I ate lunch at my sister's place. Yesterday, my husband bought some vegetables in another town, so we're tiding over."

Mrs Sumapig, her husband and their eight-year-old son have taken up an offer from a friend to stay at his house, one of the few private buildings in the city that is still habitable.

Help is coming in from Manila, where their 17-year-old daughter Ameel is studying. "When her classmates learned that she is from Tacloban, they pooled their resources and gave her some money and groceries," Mrs Sumapig said.

In the town of Burawin, about 40 kilometres from Tacloban, three men were chewing on dried squid as they supped a gin and cola, courtesy of a relative who had travelled from the city of General Santos on Mindanao to bring the goodies.

"It took me about 30 hours travelling by ship and bus to come here," said Mr Juanito Nario, 47.

He told AFP he brought the squid, rice, noodles, canned goods, medicine, soap and matches to his sister.

A less talked-about, but no less important side of the food chain in Tacloban and nearby towns, say residents, are items taken from two department stores in the first few days after the typhoon.

At the time there were no police officers on the streets and chaos reigned, resulting in a free-for-all as hungry people helped themselves to groceries and other merchandise.

A Tacloban entrepreneur, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said his family had been receiving food from scavengers they had sheltered in the storm's immediate aftermath.

He had allowed five families to put up temporary shelters on his wide front yard just after the storm hit, and received the kindness back many times over.

"I was surprised because they would give us branded sausages and hot dogs which I knew came from a certain mall," the businessman said, apparently referring to the Robinsons supermarket chain, which was raided by mobs for four days before out-of-town police were flown in to impose order.

"We knew they were looted groceries but what can we do? We need food," said the businessman.

"And they were generous enough to share them with us. Some of the stuff we also shared with those in need," he said.

Over the past week, AFP has been offered several items that appeared to have come from shops that have not been open since the storm, including alcohol and fruit.

"I think that by ransacking the supermarket, the residents forgot the trauma they suffered from the typhoon. Even those we knew had relatives who died participated in the looting," the businessman added.

"It seems that the motto was: You're not from Tacloban if you did not get something."

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