The Legislative Council yesterday approved a HK$40 million injection to the government's disaster relief fund to ensure there is enough cash for local charities to help those hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
The decision came as the death toll from one of the world's most powerful storms surged to about 4,000. International aid workers were finally able to set up makeshift hospitals as supplies - including medicine and water flown in by helicopters from a US aircraft carrier - reached remote areas levelled a week ago.
Despite the arrival of aid, concerns remain for survivors.
"We are very, very worried about millions of children," UN Children's Fund spokesman Marixie Mercado said in Geneva.
Speaking at a meeting of Legco's Finance Committee, director of administration Kitty Choi Kit-yu said the cash injection was necessary as the disaster relief fund held only HK$9.31 million, while she understood that three to four organisations were planning to apply for about HK$14 million to help typhoon victims.
Lawmakers worried about how the administration could make sure that the money would not be wasted. Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing cited fears about corruption.
But Choi emphasised the funding would be used only by relief groups, not officials. "We are only adding money to our piggy bank for the charities to apply," Choi said. "And when we scrutinise their proposals, we will look at the timetable of their relief project, where are they doing it, and details such as how many packs of rice, bottles of shampoo … or medicine are they buying."
The funding proposal was approved after 45 lawmakers voted in favour. Non-affiliated pan-democrat Wong Yuk-man voted against, saying it was hypocritical to talk about humanitarianism while the 2010 Manila tour bus hostage crisis, in which eight Hongkongers were killed and seven injured, was unresolved.
On Wednesday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government had "no plan" to extend its one-month deadline for survivors and families of victims to be given compensation and a presidential apology despite the typhoon's devastation. If the deadline passes, the government may impose economic sanctions on the Philippines. She said the aid effort and the bus tragedy were "entirely separate issues".
But executive councillor Bernard Chan said yesterday: "If the Philippine government requires more time, I think we should give them the time … [because] the focus should be on humanitarian efforts."
In the Philippines, after days of conflicting death tolls, officials confirmed the number of deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 overnight to 3,621.
Despite the arrival of aid, massive logistical problems remain. Injured survivors waited in long lines under searing sun for treatment. Local authorities reported shortages of body bags, petrol and staff to collect the dead.
Sailors from the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and accompanying ships yesterday took food and water ashore into Tacloban and the town of Guiuan. Acting US Ambassador Brian Goldbeck said the US had moved 174 tonnes of emergency supplies into affected areas and evacuated nearly 3,000 people.
A Norwegian merchant navy vessel arrived at Tacloban with UN World Food Programme aid, including 6,200 body bags.