HEART abandons charity mission

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A LOCAL NGO has abandoned its plans for a humanitarian mission to typhoon-ravaged Philippines due to lack of funds and government support.

Twenty volunteers from the Humanitarian Emergency Aid Response Team (HEART) were scheduled to leave last month on a 10-day mission to provide disaster relief to some of the more isolated areas of the central Philippines, where aid has been slow to mobilise.

Chairman of HEART, Paul Chiew, said the team had completed sufficient training to embark on the mission, but were unable to secure crucial financial support from the government.

“The Ministry (of Home Affairs) said they do not have the platform to support NGOs in that way so they discouraged us (from going ahead), but we understand their position.”

Chiew said the group had already done all the groundwork and made arrangements with Filipino authorities and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Many government officers, particularly medics and health professionals, had also volunteered for the 10-day mission.

“To avoid misunderstanding and conflict with the ministries, we decided to abandon the mission, but we never give up on our humanitarian spirit or disaster support.”

He stressed that financial support from the government was crucial to the success of these humanitarian missions.

HEART had originally hoped the Brunei military would be able to provide them with transport to Tacloban — the focus point of humanitarian coordination — which would reduce their costs by $10,000 to $15,000. The Royal Brunei Armed Forces has been making regular deliveries of aid to areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

“The key reason we were unable to go ahead was cost,” said Chiew. “In December, air fares were ballooning to $800 per person and we could not afford that.”

“The funds we prepared were not enough to cover the trip, and instead of wasting $20,000, we thought it better to use the money to support relief efforts there.”

Despite this latest disappointment, Chiew is still hopeful HEART can make a trip to the Philippines later this year.

He added that it is important to train local volunteers in disaster response and expose them to the hardships experienced by those affected by natural disasters.

More than 6,000 people have been reported dead after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines on November 8, with another 1,800 still missing.

Almost four million people have been displaced by the typhoon, the strongest storm to ever make landfall in the archipelago.

The Brunei Times