Return to Transcripts main page


Philippines Deadly Typhoon; Philippine President Declares National Calamity; No Deal on Iran's Nuclear Program; Imagine a World

Aired November 11, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

"The devastation here is absolute," so said the Filipino interior minister after supertyphoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms ever recorded, scythed through the island nation causing untold damage. It is three days now since the massive storm struck, and yet the nation is still in the very early stages of search and rescue.

Many areas are still inaccessible. The president today declared a state of national calamity. Officials are cautious about how many people may have been killed. The official death toll is in the hundreds. And as you'll hear tonight, our guests say an early estimate of 10,000 dead is wildly inaccurate. But the truth is, we don't know yet; the full extent cannot be known.

As CNN teams drove from Tacloban City to the local airport, they saw dead and injured at the side of the road and everywhere survivors, homeless and on the move, looking for shelter. Desperate people are hunting for the basic requirements of life as best they can, petrol, food and water, even if it does mean raiding pumps and stores.

And where they cannot get what they need, as we've seen in disasters like Hurricane Katrina, they'd write out their SOS on land, hoping to catch the eye of helicopters and plans that pass overhead.

Great swaths of the country look as if they've been rolled flat by the storm surge. Many countries, including the United States, have sent in personnel like these Marines to help get aid to the thousands of people in dire need. And as always, in these crises, life and birth go on.

This baby was born at Tacloban Airport at the height of the storm. And the race is on now to provide enough power and water and food for this baby, its family and all the newborns and everybody suffering right now in the Philippines.

President Aquino has been touring areas affected by the storm. And yet he's facing some criticism that the government hasn't acted quickly enough. But the Philippines is only just recovering from a deadly earthquake that rocked the island of Bohol just three weeks ago. This destructive force of nature also raises the inevitable fears of disease unless sanitation improves and clean water gets to where it is most needed.

I reached the Philippines secretary of health, Enrique Ona, who's on the front lines of this fight against time.


AMANPOUR: Minister Enrique Ona, thank you very much for joining me.

ENRIQUE ONA, PHILIPPINES HEALTH SECRETARY: Thank you, Christiane, and just to let you know that I'm an admirer of your program and CNN.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

How does this stack up against, you know, previous humanitarian and environmental and weather disasters that you've had?

ONA: I would say that it is the worst that we have had. Of course, the area that was hit, that is in central Philippines, has been a common area often hit by several typhoons annually.

However, this is the strongest and the most devastating hurricane or typhoon that we have had in the Philippines. And I have been here, you know, for all these years.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that, at this particular point in time, there is at least a proper pipeline of aid and rescue and all those missions, getting to the worst hit?

ONA: At the moment, yes; as a matter of fact I'm so deluged with offers of assistance and not only of course from our countrymen here in the Philippines, but also abroad. And I would like to thank all of them for this tremendous offer of support to what has befallen in our country today.

AMANPOUR: But is it getting to the people who need it?

ONA: Yes, that is of course a challenge, especially during the first two days of the -- of the devastating typhoon. But things are improved a lot and they are now receiving the support and the assistance that the national government is giving.

In terms of health, there was a sort of a 24- to 36-hour period where there was almost complete absence of communication. But now things have slowly returned.

AMANPOUR: What are the biggest health risks? We heard obviously in the immediate aftermath, people were desperate for water, for food. We saw babies being born, as they are every day. But in this case, in, you know, the most primitive of circumstances.

What are -- is there a threat of any disease, a threat of any major health issues?

ONA: Oh, yes. Fortunately, the most devastated city that we see, Tacloban, our Department of Health, what we call our regional medical center, though damaged, is still partially functioning, is including the operating room. And as a matter of fact, yesterday, they did about eight operations.

But certainly in terms of diseases, yes, there's still a lot of water. And so therefore we have made sure that water purification vehicles will arrive or will soon be added with what has arrived yesterday.

AMANPOUR: Minister, I just want to follow up and give you the opportunity to answer again, because you remember in some of the historic calamities, let's say Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, a lot of officials were telling the public that actually things are OK and things are under -- in hand. And they turned out to be very much not in hand.

And your own interior minister, having toured the area, said that, you know, while stuff is coming -- of course this was yesterday -- it can't get out to the people because of the debris and the blockages.

So I just want to be absolutely sure that you are sure that aid is reaching the places they're needed.

ONA: Yes, as a matter of fact I was there yesterday at a helicopter ride around the area of Leyte as well as in there, in the city itself.

As I earlier mentioned, fortunately our major hospital is functioning. So things are moving and hopefully we'll have a full resumption of communication, because that was our main problem at the first 36 hours of - - after the onslaught of the typhoon.

AMANPOUR: And let me ask you, you've talked a lot about Tacloban.

But what about the lower lying coastal areas? Could it be even worse there?

Do you know, does the government know what's happened to the lower lying coastal areas?

ONA: Yes, we are -- well, Christiane, just about a couple of hours ago we had a review of a -- of the localities, of the municipalities, but we have not heard much.

And although, yes, we have not heard from them for the last 48 hours, we know that we have medical teams as well as a team with our department and local government as well as from the Armed Forces making their way over to these outlying coastal areas.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- what do you expect to find there when they get there?

ONA: Well, I'm sure we will find the people that have been injured. And I'm sure there will be some deaths because, right now, although very -- we still have very preliminary number of the total number of casualties.

And as a matter of fact, the counting is still really ongoing. But hopefully we are praying that it wouldn't be as much as some people are trying to make a necessary projection.

AMANPOUR: So your reaction to what some people have already said, there could be 10,000 deaths in Tacloban alone?

ONA: Oh, no. I would -- I think that is an exaggeration because, as of today, yes, it will be several hundred. But I would think it would be in that number that we just mentioned.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Enrique Ona, thank you very much for joining me from Manila.

ONA: You're welcome, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now one of the Philippines' strongest allies, the United States, has announced emergency relief aid for the worst-hit areas, as have other nations. And the final bill for this disaster is sure to reach billions of dollars in a country that can least afford such a hefty price tag.

What surprised government, the people and the disaster relief agencies was not the high wind and rain, which had been predicted for days, but the massive wall of water, the storm surge, and that is what caused most of the damage.

I asked President Aquino's spokesman how the country can recover now and prepare to better deal with these kinds of disasters in the future.


AMANPOUR: Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesman, thank you for joining me at this time.

How are foreign countries helping you? The United States has sent a detachment of Marines.

How are other countries helping you?

How is your own military working?

LACIERDA: Our -- we're very thankful for the assistance provided for us by the different countries. There are around 22 countries that have offered assistance to us. And, for instance, two C-130s from the United States have assisted us in bringing relief goods to Tacloban City.

Our military is also in the process of clearing the roads in Tacloban City and the other areas to ensure that the transport of relief goods be expedited.

And so we're working and this is an ongoing process. We started today. The San Juanico Bridge was opened yesterday afternoon. So we expect that the relief goods will be transported in a much more expeditious manner by today.

AMANPOUR: May I ask you, Mr. Lacierda, why did President Aquino not order an evacuation?

I understand he suggested, he recommended, but did not order an evacuation of these vulnerable areas.

LACIERDA: Oh, we did. We did. In fact, the president came on national television a few days before the arrival of the storm. In fact, he warned of storm surge in several areas.

And so far as evacuation is concerned, Christiane, the president's ordered evacuation also in those low-lying areas. Unfortunately, what we did expect was that all the strong storm surge that hit Leyte was a little bit is very used to having typhoons and storms.

So we have prepared for such a calamity. Unfortunately, what has -- what happened in the first time in Tacloban, in Leyte and Samar is a storm surge which unfortunately they were not able to prepare for. AMANPOUR: Let me ask you to address bigger issues that the government has and that President Aquino has. For years it has been said that incompetence and corruption in government has starved vital infrastructure of the vital funds that it needs, roads and airports and other such infrastructure that would have been so useful in this disaster relief.

What is the president going to have to do reverse that situation and strengthen the capacity of your infrastructure?

LACIERDA: With respect to the roads, our Department of Public Works and Highway secretary has managed to trim corruption, eradicate corruption by as much as $6 billion in 2011. All these things are being handled and we recognize that we have done a lot towards reforming what we need to do in disaster risk management.

However, there are things left to be done. We continue to improve as we continue to face storms each year.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Lacierda, thank you.

And just finally, how do you describe what you see and what other government officials have seen?

LACIERDA: Well, to our -- my fellow cabinet secretaries and to the president who have just visited the area, it's a tragedy. It's a human tragedy where so many people have been left homeless, so many people have lost their parents or children and have lost their livelihood.

But we believe, as the president has told us, that with calm prayer and cooperation among the people and together with the assistance coming from our foreign neighbors, we will prevail and we shall overcome.

AMANPOUR: Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesman, thank you for joining me at this time from Manila.

LACIERDA: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Now as we've been saying, the full impact of the storm isn't yet known. But it is useful to compare other similar natural disasters. For instance, the 2004 tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean left this staggering statistic: more than 200,000 dead and nearly 2 million others displaced across several nations.

And when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, it killed nearly 2,000 people across five U.S. states.

After a break, another vital question facing the safety of the world, and that is Iran's nuclear program. After negotiators in Geneva failed to reach an agreement this weekend, what will it take to close the deal? We'll explore when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and to another story with significant global consequences, the crisis between the major powers and Iran over its nuclear intentions.

Just before the weekend, Iran's foreign minister told me on this program that he thought there would an interim deal signed. Instead, the three days of talks wrapped up with no deal and all sides deflecting blame all over the place. This while all sides still declaring themselves to be tantalizingly close to an agreement. That's the report from two of the principal players, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, and Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: There was unity, but Iran couldn't take it; at that particular moment, they weren't able to accept that particular agreement.

We are closer now as we leave Geneva than we were when we came and that with good work and good faith over the course of the next weeks, we can, in fact, secure our goal.

JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAN: I think we are all on the same wave length, and that's important. And that gives us the impetus to go forward when we meet again next time. So actually, I think we had a very good three days, very productive three days. And it's something that we can build on and move forward.


AMANPOUR: So talks will resume November 20th.

And joining me now from Moscow, veteran U.S. diplomat and Iran watcher Thomas Pickering, to guide us through what just happened.

Ambassador Pickering, thank you very much for joining me from Moscow.

Let me get straight to it. You heard what Secretary Kerry said, what Javad Zarif said after the talks broke down.

Are they all on the same wave length?

Is there really progress?

Do you think a deal can be reached?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: First, I think they are on the same wave length. I think progress has been made. I think a deal can be reached. But I think there are three issues that need to be paid careful attention to that are still perhaps standing in the way of bringing things together. And this is just basically an analysis from what has been creeping out.

Issue number one: can a disposition be made of the stockpile of 20 percent enriched material, which is now in Iran's hands, which they amounts to 200 kilograms, less than a significant quantity that could be used to upgrade to a nuclear weapon? But should that stay in Iran? Should it be converted to a less upgradeable form, either in Iran or outside or some other disposition?

The second is the Arak reactor. There clearly is a serious interest in slowing down the development of that reactor and perhaps putting it in a position where it cannot be used in the future to make plutonium optimized for weapons development, which seemingly is what that kind of reactor can do. And that's important.

And the third question -- and this has been a little bit deeper in terms of the mystery, because people have been very careful about talking about it, how much sanctions relief should go with the deal, which has begun to take shape around the cessation of enrichment of material to 20 percent, perhaps the acceptance of a 5 percent overall limit? Some effort to deal with the stockpiles, which I talked about a little while ago, perhaps some effort to stop the underground, deep underground facility at Fordo from working. That would be, I think, a fairly healthy first-stage agreement. But there's deep concern, particularly in Israel, that more sanctions will be given up to pay for that kind of an agreement than it's worth. And that will become irreversible. Something I don't agree with, but some -- and something that can be dealt with in the negotiations.

AMANPOUR: Well, to that point, I want to play you a little bit about what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about precisely that point.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): A good agreement means an accord that reduces or totally dismantles Iran's ability to prepare and produce a nuclear weapon. A bad agreement leaves this capability in place and takes the air out of the sanctions. And we'll do everything in our power to convince the powers and the leaders to avoid a bad agreement.


AMANPOUR: So clearly, that sentiment is being heard by some of the U.S. allies and partners negotiating and of course by Congress.

How important is what the prime minister has been saying publicly without apparently even knowing what the actual deal and agreement was?

PICKERING: Well, I think that he states an Israeli position. That's his right. And perhaps even his duty. But the really interesting question is how is he going to take out of the heads of the Iranians the knowledge about how to enrich, which of course is a key, but not the only step that's necessary to make a nuclear weapon?

So we're now in a position, can we find ways to make it harder for the Iranians to break out rapidly, which is what we have been concerned about, and I believe we're moving in that direction.

He also seems to believe that the first agreement will be the final agreement when, in fact, I think the parties have widely accepted the view that they will be a first agreement, probably one that will try to increase the amount of time to -- for a rapid breakout and increase the transparency so the international community, through the International Atomic Energy Agency will know very quickly if there is a breakout taking place.

And then finally, I think it's very important to realize that a perfect agreement now is probably not on the tables, particularly when it gets to knowledge of the technology which can't be, in my view, taken away. But we can move to a good agreement, one that really achieves the objectives I talked about. And my hope is that the optimism at the end of the discussions in Geneva and a new meeting in 10 days, perhaps at a somewhat lower level, but in an effort to clean up the differences, will continue on. And I have never seen a discussion with Iranians break up with such a commitment to optimism as I have seen on this one, despite the difficulties and the failure to bring an agreement about at this point.

AMANPOUR: All right. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, thank you as always for your insight. Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll return to the Philippines, where the island of Leyte took the brunt of the lethal Typhoon Haiyan. Nearly 70 years ago, the storm clouds of World War II hovered over that same island during the Japanese occupation, that is until the U.S. general, Douglas MacArthur, waded ashore, leading the troops who would liberate the Philippines and fulfill MacArthur's famous vow, "I shall return."

And so shall we, after a break.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, typhoons, earthquakes, cyclones and landslides, a litany of Biblical disasters has struck the Philippines in the past decade. Now imagine a world where the aftershocks are being deeply felt as far away as Eastern Europe.

Today in Warsaw, Poland, at the 19th United Nations Convention on Climate Change, there was a moment of silence and then Naderev Sano, the head of the Philippine delegation, sent out an emotional SOS to negotiators for nearly 200 member nations. Listen.


NADEREV SANO, U.N. PHILIPPINES DELEGATE: And today, we say, "I care." We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now. Right here, in the middle of this football field. And stop moving the goalposts.

Mr. President, Your Excellency, Honorable Minister, my delegation calls on you most respectfully to lead us and let Poland and Warsaw be remembered forever as the place where we truly cared to stop this madness.



AMANPOUR: And the madness he mentions, of course, the first of the failure of the international community, especially the richer nations, to reach an agreement to curb the devastating effects of climate change. Among all the countries on Earth, the Philippines is the third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And the island nation also has the misfortune of being in the so-called Ring of Fire, a band of seismic activity around the Pacific.

While scientists have yet to confirm that storms there are getting worse, each typhoon season -- and there have been six catastrophic seasons in a row -- has cost the Philippines 2 percent of its GDP and another 2 percent in rebuilding costs.

What does that mean in real dollars? The total impact of supertyphoon Haiyan may reach an estimated $14 billion. The human cost may never be known.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us as our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.