Super Typhoon Haiyan: With So Many Still Suffering, Why Keep Our Eyes On Recovery?
November 12, 2013
As a tropical country made up of more than 7,100 volcanic islands, the islands of the Philippines are vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters, ranging from earthquakes and tsunamis to flooding and landslides. In fact, that nation experiences an average of 19 typhoons each year. The latest—and possibly the most devastating to date—is Super Typhoon Haiyan.
At 4:30 a.m. local time on Friday, November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall across eastern and central Philippines. With reported winds of around 200 miles per hour and up to 20 foot waves, this Category-5 typhoon left widespread devastation. In addition to mass evacuations and thousands of casualties, there have been reports of severe damage to properties and infrastructure, including interruptions of communication lines in many areas.
Foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) quickly mobilized emergency response efforts. NGOs are accepting donations for immediate relief.
Q1: What has happened so far?
A1: Initial reports suggest that up to 10,000 people may have been killed in the Philippines, but lack of communications due to loss of power and phones has made the extent of the casualties and damage impossible to confirm at this time. The province of Samar remains entirely inaccessible, and a round trip between Tacloban airport and the city center—a drive of less than 7 miles—currently takes about six hours, according to the on-the-ground UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team.
The day before the storm, some 125,000 people from the central Philippines moved to evacuation centers in preparation for the storm’s landfall. More than 1 million people are reportedly displaced as a result of the storm. The Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development reports that the typhoon affected 9.5 million people across nine regions.
Of U.S.-based entities, several members of the Washington, D.C.-based alliance organization InterAction already have boots on the ground in the Philippines, coordinating emergency response and verifying that people impacted by the storm have necessary supplies. Filipino-American communities, particularly in Southern California and Illinois, have already begun local fundraising efforts to raise money for those affected by the storm. Community members have begun flying from the United States to the Philippines with supplies to assist initial relief efforts.
Q2: What makes Super Typhoon Haiyan significant?
A2: Typhoon Haiyan had reportedly sustained winds of 195 miles per hour (mph), as well as gusts up to 235 mph, which means that Haiyan may be the strongest tropical cyclone to hit land anywhere in recorded history. The next strongest storm recorded was Hurricane Camille, which struck the U.S. Gulf and Mississippi in 1969 and had sustained wind speed of 190 mph.
The Philippines is also facing effects of a compounding disaster. On October 15, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Bohol province in central Philippines. The earthquake displaced more than 344,300 people, and about 80 percent of those displaced were still living in makeshift shelters or under tarpaulins near their damaged houses when Typhoon Haiyan hit.
Notably, many of the most destructive disasters within the past few decades have occurred in Pacific Rim countries, and the region is dubbed the “Ring of Fire” for its prevalence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It is home to over 75 percent of Earth’s active and dormant volcanos, and roughly 81 percent of the largest earthquakes occur in this region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. With predicted increase in significant storms in the coming years, the impact of Typhoon Haiyan raises some serious questions about nations’ and NGOs’ preparation and response efforts for natural disasters in this geologically active region.
Q3: What is the best way to mobilize financial resources to help?
A3: According to USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information, the most effective way to help following a disaster is to send money instead of in-kind donations (e.g., clothing, food). This holds true for a number of reasons. First, money allows for flexibility, as on-the-ground organizations can use it to purchase necessary supplies for immediate relief and long-term recovery, and local communities can allocate the donations based on their needs. Second, in-kind gifts require transportation, sorting, and storage. After a community’s infrastructure experiences severe damage, that community likely does not have the manpower or physical capacity to transport, sort, and store in-kind donations. For example, food and water must be stored carefully to avoid contamination. Often, due to lack of resources to handle in-kind donations, they go unused for years.
It is also important to consider giving to an established fund for mid- to long-term recovery. Historically, while assistance pours in for immediate response and relief following a disaster, media attention and donations wane after several weeks. The generosity of the American people responding to disaster relief is considerable, but who supports recovery efforts when the immediate response and relief efforts are over? Past disasters have demonstrated that it takes many years for communities to recover; for example, Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts will not be complete until 2026. In a nation such as the Philippines, which is impacted by multiple storms and geological events every year, the faster the community can move toward recovery, the less it will feel the compounding effects of multiple disasters.
Established philanthropic organizations often offer effective and efficient ways to mobilize financial resources. For example, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) galvanizes and educates donors about effective giving over mid-term and long-term recovery in order to rebuild communities quickly following the relief phase of a disaster. CDP recently established a Typhoon Haiyan Recovery Fund to focus on medium- and long-term rebuilding for local communities, including both individuals and local businesses, which will have to be rebuilt for economic stability and recovery. The CDP Typhoon Haiyan Recovery Fund aims to look beyond relief efforts to the much longer road to recovery.
Q4: How do you build a resilient community in such a high-risk area?
A4: One of the most important issues as the Philippines moves from the relief phase to recovery efforts is resettlement of hundreds of thousands of evacuees. Resettlement is one of the most often ignored elements of recovery. Whole villages, towns, and even cities are evacuated, such as in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, as the media observe and judge the efficiency of evacuation efforts. Yet months and years down the line, no one follows up to ensure that these communities have returned home and are rebuilding—assuming the displaced people return to the site of the disaster. Moreover, the further people are evacuated from their home, the less likely they will ever return to their original communities.
Coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to this resettlement issue. Frequent catastrophic storms can result in increased flooding of coastal zones, and some experts suggest relocating flood-prone communities. However, this is a tricky proposition. Coastal communities are often reliant on economies based around coastal activities, such as fishing and oil production. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, if the U.S. coastal economy were ranked as an independent country, it would have the third-largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world behind the United States as a whole and China. How could coastal populations resettle elsewhere without dismantling that economy? In island nations such as the Philippines, would it even be possible to move a whole nation of at-risk citizens?
Another option—as demonstrated in the U.S. Gulf region—is the use of resilience as an economic driver. Louisiana and other Gulf states create jobs around reconstruction and studying climate change and its impact on coastal economies. In 2011, the International Monetary Fund reported that the Philippines boasted the 45th-largest economy in the world, and its GDP has been steadily rising since 1998. Could the Philippines use its geographic vulnerability to create new job opportunities and economic drivers? What resources there could help build stronger, more resilient communities, and what research and practical examples on coastal living might they be able to impart to the world?
As communication and power are restored to Haiyan-impacted areas of the Philippines, details of the extent of the damage will come to light, giving the world a more complete view of how the disaster was handled and helping nations and NGOs to mobilize relief and recovery more effectively. However, as further accounts of the storm emerge and as the Philippines moves from the relief phase into recovery, it will also invoke more difficult questions, such as how communities can better prepare for what can be referred to as the “maximum of maximums” or the next record-breaking disaster.
Lori J. Bertman is a CSIS Advisory Board member, chairman of the Board of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and president and CEO of the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation. Stephanie Kostro is the acting director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Rachel A. Pickens is a program officer at the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Family Foundation.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2013 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.