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Typhoon Bopha, Philippines

Typhoon Bopha—known locally as Pablo—made landfall three times in the Philippines in December 2012, spreading destruction across 30 provinces.

The islands are no stranger to typhoons and other severe weather events, but Bopha was different; Mindanao, the area of initial impact, typically does not typically see typhoons of this magnitude. In all, 5.4 million people were affected, and at least 2,000 died or missing.

Despite the devastation from Bopha, the Philippines is one of the most prepared countries. The World Disaster Report 2012—a collaborative effort among the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, the German Alliance for Development Works, and The Nature Conservancy—labeled the country as the third most disaster-prone nation in the world. But it also was the highest-rated on adaptation measures. President Benigno Aquino announced plans in August 2012 to implement high-priority flood control measures in Manila and Lake Laguna over a six-month period.

Even so, no preparation could fully prevent damage from Bopha. The combination of winds and heavy rains crumpled houses, leaving many homeless. Emergency shelters have been established, but due to the remote nature of the area most affected, many were unable to receive aid quickly. Farmland—a source of income for the majority of the region—was devastated. Immediately following the typhoon, officials estimated that 18 bridges and 16 roads were damaged, leaving some areas accessible only by sea or air.

(Photo: Emergency shelter supplies flown into the Philippines by USAID/OFDA helped communities get back on their feet. Credit: Lisa Gabriel, USAID/OFDA; CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bopha was the 16th typhoon—and most powerful—to hit the Philippines in 2012. Wind strengths reached 138 miles per hour and the rainfall reached nearly 20 inches in a 24-hour period. That was double the rainfall and three times the wind strength of Tropical Storm Washi, which hit northern Mindanao in December 2011. That storm claimed more than 1,500 lives. (A “typhoon” is a tropical cyclone/hurricane in the Indian or Western Pacific oceans, but Washi was not designated a typhoon because of its wind speed measurements.)

The region has been beset by military clashes for more than four decades, and Bopha hit just as hope appeared on the horizon. In October 2012, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reached a framework agreement, setting the stage for a new basic law for the region. The United Nations has created a Humanitarian Action Plan to assist with the transition.

What was the impact of this disaster?
  • Initial assessments by the government indicated a need for food, water, shelter, medicine, and items like generators. With power lines damaged and roads and bridges destroyed, reaching those in need of aid proved difficult.
  • In the most impacted areas, evacuation centers became overcrowded. Some sustained damage during the typhoon. Other regions lack such centers, leaving those displaced—many of them women and children—to live out in the open. There were concerns about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
  • Agriculture was severely impacted, affecting both food security and livelihoods. For example, an estimated 42,000 acres of banana plantations were destroyed. Agriculture-support infrastructures and facilities also were damaged.
  • Most of those affected by Bopha belong to indigenous communities; these people have been in conflict with the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), an arm of the Communist party in the Philippines. Though NPA announced a ceasefire immediately after the disaster, it was unclear whether the orders were being followed. Consequently, security was a concern for affected populations as well as aid workers.
  • The death toll from Typhoon Bopha topped 1,000 within two weeks, with nearly 800 people still missing. In all, 5.4 million people were affected.
  • More than 63,000 homes were destroyed, and another 95,000 partially damaged. There were 822,500 people staying outside evacuation centers with family or friends and additional 11,700 people staying in 43 evacuation centers.
  • It was estimated that 90 percent of schools were damaged in the affected areas. Another 158 schools were used as evacuation centers.
  • Damage estimates from Bopha quickly exceeded those of Tropical Storm Washi in 2011. The greatest damage was to infrastructure, agriculture, and private property.
Insights: Notes from the field: Gisli Olaffson, Emergency Response Director, NetHope

Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines was one of the worst disasters of 2012, yet it received very little media attention and insufficient funding overall – totaling less than 30% of what is needed. More than 1,000 people died and close to 200,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged when sustained winds in excess of 160 mph hit the island of Mindanao. In all, over 6.2 million people were affected and close to 850,000 still remain displaced.

NetHope immediately responded to the scene to evaluate the damage and begin to restore information and communication technology to the affected area. NetHope enables humanitarian organizations to better serve the developing world through smarter use of technology, and in this case, better coordinate relief efforts. We help our member organizations collaborate, innovate, and leverage the full potential of information and communications technology to support their causes.

Thankfully, NetHope rallied good support from our private sector partners, who provided laptops, BGANs and satellite phones. We also had two foundations, The Patterson Foundation and Dell Foundation, provide funds to allow us to launch a strong response. This quick support not only allowed us to commit resources immediately to our members operating in the area, but it also allowed us to deploy a two-person emergency team to the affected areas. This emergency team, led by me, performed a field assessment of additional ICT needs and provided training and equipment to the NetHope members.

Seeing the destruction first hand was an emotional experience. The majority of the people worst affected were either farmers or fishermen living in rural areas. The Davao Oriental province, located along the eastern coast of the Mindanao Island, took the brunt of the wind damage and in the worst affected towns, every single house sustained damage. It reminded me of areas I have visited that have been hit by tsunami, except this time it was wind that did the damage; not water.

What is worse, however, is that the banana and coconut trees — the main source of livelihood in the affected areas — snapped in the wind and in many places over 90% of them are now gone. This means that most relief organizations expect to be working in the affected area on reconstruction and rehabilitation projects for at least 18-24 months.

You can see some of my photos here.

I also recorded a few videos of the devastation,  and an interview with the ICT Manager of one of our member organizations, Plan International:

Telecommunication in the affected area was severely damaged and as a result we asked our satellite partners for assistance. Thuraya, a provider of satellite phones, provided phones along with airtime credit for each phone. Long-term partner Astrium Services supplied BGAN terminals (satellite based internet terminals) along with prepaid bandwidth. These were placed in three of the worst affected towns in Davao Oriental (Boston, Cateel, Baganga), where our NGO members shared them through wireless network equipment we also provided. We also looked at bringing VSAT terminal (high bandwidth satellite internet terminals) into the country, but based on the assessment mission and difficulties in getting equipment into the country due to regulatory issues, we decided to rely on the BGANs.

In order to run the relief and recovery efforts, our member organizations and their local implementation partners hired a local staff. This new staff was in need of laptops to be able to effectively communicate and coordinate the relief and recovery efforts. Our long-term partners HP and Dell donated 110 laptops and Microsoft provided software for these laptops. Through one of our newest members, Direct Relief International, we were able to ship this equipment to the Philippines with support from FedEx.

NetHope also shipped 50 high definition video cameras (Flip) that were donated by Cisco. These have been used by our members for advocacy work like these examples from Plan International show:

Throughout the whole effort, we worked very closely with the US State Department, USAID and the US Embassy in the Philippines for assistance in enabling equipment to be brought in without having to pay high customs fees. This collaboration and a direct relationship with the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare in the Philippines through our partner Microsoft enabled us to get customs fees waived for most of our relief shipments.

The work on the Typhoon Bopha recovery continues as we help our member organizations transition from the satellite-based solutions back to mobile network-based solutions as the mobile networks start coming back online. We are also assisting them in starting up a NetHope Philippines chapter that brings together ICT managers from all of the NetHope members and local implementation partners to better collaborate locally. We expect our work to continue at least for the next two months.

Fund programs to meet immediate needs.

With so many people displaced, water, sanitation, and hygiene were tremendous concerns. With agriculture severely impacted, many families have serious food insecurity. The need for temporary shelter remains great.

Establish/strengthen the nation’s evacuation centers.

As the world’s third most disaster-prone nation, the Philippines encounters numerous events each year. Bopha points to the need for improved evacuation centers and for redundancy. A number of schools—often a site for evacuation—were damaged in the storm.

Support livelihood initiatives. 

Agriculture was severely damaged, and in many areas—such as banana plantations—it will take years to recover. Mitigation efforts as well as targeted investments will be needed to help improve livelihoods for years to come.

Fund environmental efforts to protect and improve coral reefs in coastal areas.

The World Disaster Report 2012 reported that the Philippines could protect about a fifth of its population by improving protection of coral reefs. They are a primary line of defense against coastal hazards like typhoons.

Support programs that provide psychosocial assistance. 

In the initial days after Bopha, the United Nations reported that many adults were unable to assist in recovery efforts because of the shock of the event. Children were left unattended, crying and begging at the roadside. The Philippines may be disaster-prone overall, but the areas most affected are unaccustomed to such events.

Philanthropic and government support

The Philippine government asked for international assistance and worked closely with the United Nations and NGOs to coordinate efforts. An Information Management and Communications Working Group was established to share needs and response in real-time among government representatives, NGOs, and UN agencies. Within the first weeks after Typhoon Bopha, funding response came primarily from government organizations. In addition to support from the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, and other areas invested in the region’s immediate and long-term recovery.

As of Dec. 14, 2012, 10 days after Typhoon Bopha’s initial landfall, $11.8 million in pledges, commitments, and contributions had been made by foreign donors, as reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). An additional contribution of $1.78 million will be made available through the Canadian International Development Agency.

There were opportunities for private philanthropy to help fill in gaps and meet the needs of vulnerable and displaced populations, as well as to shore up NGOs with longstanding histories of working in the area.

NGO Response

  • To alleviate crowding in hospitals, the Philippine Red Cross set up medical tents, including one that can host minor surgery. The Red Cross sent medicine, ambulances, generators, and water supply to the two worst-hit towns, and also assisted with tracing missing persons.
  • Save the Children had 32 staff members in the area and mobilized aid packages, including mosquito nets, toiletries, and blankets. It used pre-positioned supplies and purchased items locally to alleviate delays caused by damaged infrastructure. It also identified areas of extreme need, and worked to mobilize help in those areas.
  • Oxfam has worked in the area for more than three decades. Its Bopha response followed a model used successfully for Washi. Oxfam’s partner organization, the Humanitarian Response Consortium, executed the response, along with other organizations such as the Agri-Aqua Development Coalition. Oxfam provided technical assistance, supported monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL), and overall advisory guidance.
  • Catholic Relief Services set up water tanks in New Bataan, where water systems were damaged by broken pipes. It trained volunteers for hygiene promotion and distributed WASH kits. Emergency shelters were designed. In addition, the organization worked with donor organizations to procure and distribute plastic sheeting and tarpaulins.
  • World Vision assisted 8,000 families in the region, providing food and items such as blankets and mosquito nets. It also planned to provide temporary shelters and housing repair for 2,500 families and livelihood support for 1,500.
  • Plan International delivered emergency supplies such as tents and water purification tablets. It focused its effort in Davao Oriental, where all the schools were destroyed. In addition to water and hygiene kits, it provided materials for temporary shelters and creating child-friendly spaces. In the future, Plan International will work to establish temporary learning centers and provide services to help children cope.
  • Christian Aid released funds to help partner organizations meet immediate needs with food, blankets, and first aid.
  • Heifer International worked with local families to provide short-term food relief, materials to repair damaged homes, and support for surviving animals, such as a feed mill and raw feed ingredients. At least 366 families that Heifer had been working with were significantly affected, with loss of livestock.


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