Typhoons in the Philippines

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Towards the end of 2011, the Philippines were ravaged by several typhoons, killing 1,500 people and leaving millions without homes, water systems, and food crops.

Every year, an average of 20 typhoons hits the Philippines. But in late September/early October 2011, back-to-back storms exponentially increased damage and destruction. Typhoon Nesat directly impacted 35 provinces on September 27. Five days later, Typhoon Nelgae further damaged 17 of those 35. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported more than 4 million people affected; destruction of homes, water systems and food crops; and more than 254,400 people displaced or requiring further help by mid-October. At that time, 101 typhoon-related deaths had been reported, with dozens of people still missing.

But the worst was yet to come; a severe tropical storm hit on December 17. Tropical Storm Washi killed more than 1,400 people and displaced 430,500. As of January 2012, 815 villages from seven regions had been declared devastated, and estimated damages to infrastructure and agriculture went well into the tens of millions. The fast storm delivered between seven and eight inches of rain, compared to an average rainfall of two inches each December.

A “typhoon” is a tropical cyclone/hurricane in the Indian or Western Pacific oceans. (Washi was not designated a typhoon because of its wind speed measurements.) Because of its location and geographical characteristics—the Philippines is comprised of 7,107 islands, has numerous fault lines and active volcanoes—such storms aren’t the country’s only challenge. The United Nations considers it one of the most disaster-prone countries worldwide.

The storms—known locally as Quiel, Pedring, and Sendong—brought some of the worst flooding the country had seen in decades, particularly in high-density areas such as Manila (and, in the cast of Tropical Storm Washi, in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan). The damage has been widespread, and full recovery will not be quick.

In addition to the ongoing need for immediate aid, opportunities are ripe for long-reaching mitigation and prevention strategies with private funds. As of February 2012, just over a quarter of the $39 million in requested aid had been covered.

  • Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) remain major concerns of the Philippines’ storm-affected areas. Stagnant water forms a breeding ground for illness and disease, and lack of sanitary facilities (including damage to septic tanks) has only exacerbated the challenges. NGOs have supplied drinking water and hygiene kits to many, but not all areas are accessible, and according to OCHA, “knowledge of hygiene is poor.”
  • The country’s Department of Agriculture estimated a $269 million loss to crops and agriculture from the twin typhoons alone—including a 94 percent loss of total rice crop production. The proliferation of natural disasters that hits the area leads to food insecurity in addition to a loss of livelihood.
  • The country has established numerous evacuation centers, but they are not limited to those affected by natural disasters. OCHA reports 69,300 Internally Displaced Persons also live in such centers due to ongoing country conflicts. Evacuation centers are prone to overcrowding in addition to the spread of disease and other health issues.
  • The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 was signed into law in May 2010. It comes with hopes of a greater exchange of information, the development of inter-agency contingency plans, and the creation of assessment tools.

Philanthropic opportunities for donors interested in the supporting the short- and long-term recovery typhoon-affected areas in the Philippines are:

  • Fund ongoing immediate relief efforts. As of January 2012, more than 26,000 storm-affected people remained in evacuation centers, according to the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
  • Support area educational efforts for sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and health information. Public awareness could greatly reduce potentially devastating effects of future disasters.
  • Fund non-structural mitigation efforts such as improved flood monitoring; information and warning systems; evacuation systems; and hazard mapping. Improvements were made in recent years, but a 2009 study by IHP National Committees, the International Centre for Water Hazard (ICHARM) and HTC Kuala Lumpur showed that existing systems are not necessarily fully operational.      
  • Establish/strengthen the nation’s evacuation centers. As typhoons and tropical storms remain an ongoing threat, these centers must be ready to provide health and other essential services. A number of the health facilities were inoperable due to the storms.
  • Support assistance efforts for farmers and other businesses affected by the storms to help strengthen the economy. Long-term recovery will require strategic, targeted investment – including mitigation efforts to reduce the impact of future monsoons.     
  • Build capacity of NGOs with longstanding relationships in the area. Communities gain resiliency by marrying expert assistance with local understanding and experience.