Few lives lost compared to Haiyan but typhoons still destroying livelihoods in Philippines

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Has the Philippines learnt from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013? Was the country prepared for Typhoon Koppu? Thousands of lives have been saved this time, compared to Haiyan, but individuals need to collaborate to reach a zero casualty target. And while the media praise the relatively low numbers of lives lost, there is little mention of the huge impact Koppu has brought on livelihoods.

Written by: Elle Fernandez (IIRR Regional Center for Asia) & Bruno Haghebaert (GNDR Secretariat)

Typhoon Koppu (Lando, in the Philippines), which battered central and northern Luzon on Sunday October 18 is the second strongest typhoon that hit the country this year. The forceful winds and heavy rains pounded large parts of Luzon Island, causing rivers to swell beyond their embankments and causing substantial damage to houses and people’s belongings. But the number of casualties, currently amounting to 35 as reported by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), were minimized because of the effective pre-emptive evacuations strictly implemented by the respective local government units. The Philippine government’s efforts in the last few years to invest in better preparedness and protection for its population are starting to pay off.

In the past decade, the country was always at the receiving end of more than 20 typhoons annually. At least half of these caused major damage and a substantial number of fatalities. In order to institutionalize disaster risk reduction (DRR), the country promulgated the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law in 2010. This law compelled all local government units in each of the three island-regions of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to strictly implement preventive and preparedness measures in dealing with impending disasters caused by natural hazards. It called at the same time for effective integration of climate change adaptation (CCA) measures in DRR, as stipulated by the Climate Change Act of 2009.

On November 8th 2013, the category 5 typhoon Haiyan not only devastated Tacloban City and the rest of nine regions but shocked the entire Filipino nation. The more than 7,000 deaths could have been prevented had there been a continuous effort to warn, evacuate, anticipate and prepare for the worst case scenario, and local communities and authorities would have been better informed about what the impact of a major storm surge could be. This painful experience taught every Filipino a valuable lesson on how to improve their preparedness and readiness skills. Following Haiyan, both international and national non-governmental organizations have drawn lessons from the Haiyan experience and beefed up the DRR and CCA interventions at the community level, where collaboration with the local government is being strengthened.

Although the number of casualties caused by typhoon Koppu was limited, still lives could have been saved if people had taken both the necessary preparedness measures and more effective notice of the early warnings. Despite all the awareness-raising efforts from the government and NGOs, some people were still wary to leave their properties in the midst of impending calamity for fear of losing their properties to looters. When implementing preparedness measures, there is often the challenge that some community members will not evacuate until they find themselves sitting on top of their roofs, which makes hard for rescuers to save them. The local government units and rescue teams are doing their parts, but DRR cannot, and should not be the sole responsibility of the government officials. The population must cooperate and collaborate to make a reality of the goal of zero casualties in a place so frequented by typhoons.

While citizens recognize the worsening effects of climate change, and accept the fact that strong typhoons like Koppu are already the new “normal” there is still a lot of work to be done on protecting not just their lives, but also their livelihoods. Communities might be resilient enough to endure and survive the typhoon, but the livelihoods still suffer the most.

Minimising deaths is not enough. There is still a lot of work in terms of restoring and protecting livelihoods. Although not yet measured at this point, the damage to agriculture is huge. The Government estimates damage to agriculture and infrastructure at about US$157 million. Among the hardest hit are thousands of rice and vegetable farmers and their recovery is expected to be prolonged. The northern part of the Philippines is an agricultural area. After typhoon Koppu lashed at it, rice fields have turned into swamps at a time when most farmers had loaned the money to plant. As a result, the cycle of poverty and vulnerability perpetuates and worsens. Beyond the achievement in reducing live losses, this is the most challenging thing to address right now in the Philippines in order to build community resilience. To combine DRR and CCA with ecosystem management best practice to protect people’s livelihoods.

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