As a Filipino-American in Chicago, I have reeled in shock and helplessness as thousands of Filipinos in Haiyan-decimated Tacloban city, were shown hungry everyday sitting, crying, walking, with nowhere to go, without food, water, shelter, and medical care. After six days and reports of no aid arriving yet, I wrote seventeen friends in Manila seeking comfort as to why more aid has not reached those devastated by this natural disaster. They felt the same despair I did…“not enough aid reached the people in a timely manner.”
Like many others I am thankful for the generosity of my fellow Americans, many of whom have already donated millions to the relief effort. But I could never imagine that red-tape and outdated rules written by the US Congress could delay urgently needed relief from reaching the millions of people who desperately need humanitarian assistance.
So far, the UN has said $301 million is needed immediately to help victims of the typhoon. President Obama has already promised an initial pledge of $20 million to provide food, water and urgent medical care. But regulations, which require the vast majority of US food aid to be shipped from preferred growers in the US on preferred ships, could delay most US food aid from arriving for weeks or months.
These regulations, written in the 1950’s, require food to be shipped more than 11,000 nautical miles across the ocean even though there is ample food available much closer to the crisis in unaffected areas of the Philippines and countries like Thailand and Vietnam, usually at a lower price for taxpayers. The rules prevent aid agencies like the World Food Program from purchasing food from the closest and most cost effective sellers. Delays in delivering food could cost lives and red-tape costs tax dollars.
But Congress has the power to waive these regulations. In this urgent crisis in the Philippines please join me in calling on Congress to save lives now by exempting the Philippines emergency response from these outdated rules so humanitarian aid can reach suffering people when they need it most.