MANILA, JANUARY 6, 2014 (PHILSTAR) By Alito L. Malinao, Xinhua -- In the upcoming year of 2014, the top priority of the administration of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is to rehabilitate vast areas in the Central Philippines devastated last November by super-typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda), the strongest typhoon to hit land in recent history.

Early this month, Aquino announced that the government will earmark a total of P40.9 billion for housing, infrastructure, livelihood and employment opportunities, local facilities and social services in Tacloban City, the worst-hit city, and other coastal communities in the island provinces of Leyte and Eastern Samar.

The entire P40.9 billion could be fully funded in the budget for 2014. Earlier, the Philippine Congress passed a supplemental budget of P14.5 billion for the immediate rehabilitation and rescue efforts in the typhoon-hit areas.

Aquino has also appointed former Senator Panfilo Lacson as his rehabilitation czar. Lacson, also a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), will oversee the reconstruction of the entire region ravaged by the super typhoon.

Government funds aside, the United Nations (UN) and several foreign countries have pledged to continue extending financial support for the rehabilitation of the typhoon-hit areas in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, the UN launched a global $791-million call for aid to take care of the needs of the survivors in the Philippines over the next 12 months.

In a visit to Tacloban City last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated UN's full support for the rehabilitation of the city and other areas.

Ban urged typhoon survivors to "never despair" as he pledged to rally global backing to help them recover from one of their country's deadliest disasters during his visit on Dec. 21.

"Never despair. The UN is behind you. The world is behind you," the UN chief told survivors in the devastated city.

Ban, who also met with Aquino and other Philippine officials during his three-day visit to the country, paid tribute to the resiliency of the Philippine people.

Immediately after the super typhoon and the tsunami-like waves that hit Tacloban City, the militaries of some 16 foreign countries helped in the rescue and relief operations.

After the typhoon hit the Philippines, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi extended their condolences respectively to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario.

In addition to financial assistance, China sent its navy ship Peace Ark, the state-of-the-art hospital ship, to extend medical care to thousands of victims of the typhoon, helping restore the hope and confidence of the victims to be able to live a normal life again after the tragedy.

The Peace Ark has joined a fleet of international humanitarian missions that assisted survivors of the super typhoon.

"This is an added boost because the Peace Ark is even bigger than our regional hospital in terms of capacity with very experienced doctors and medical staff from China," said Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a member of the Philippine Congress representing the province of Leyte.

The foreign militaries that took part in the massive humanitarian mission, aside from China, were from Australia, the United States, Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Sweden, Vietnam, South Korea, New Zealand, Spain, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand bodies recovered in Tacloban City in the wake of Yolanda have been left to rot in the open as authorities await the process of identifying them before they are buried in mass graves.

A major TV network in Manila reported last Friday that because of the long Christmas break, authorities have left the bodies in the streets almost two months after the tragedy.

The Philippines' National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), a government agency tasked to handle natural calamities, has designated the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to process all recovered cadavers in Tacloban for recording and identification purposes.

It could not be immediately ascertained whether the bodies left to rot have been included in the official fatality list of NDRRMC which, as of Friday, totaled 6,111 from 6,109 last week.

Earlier estimates by local officials put the number of casualties from Yolanda at 10,000 since some of the dead were carried by the strong waves to the sea and some were buried in mass graves.

The super typhoon has inflicted some $12.9 billion worth of damage and affected some 6.6 million people. The Philippine government said it would need $8.17 billion over four years in a massive rebuilding effort.

Yolanda has devastated 171 municipalities, covering 4,971 villages in an area of 25,000 square km.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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