Development And Disasters: Super Typhoon Haiyan

Here at the Mortenson Center blog, we are pleased to continue our series of blog posts written by students.

On November 8, 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) made landfall in Guiuan in the Eastern Samar province of the Philippines. The storm was recorded as having sustained wind speeds of 196 mph with gusts up to 235 mph, making it the fourth most intense tropical cyclone ever observed and the strongest to ever make landfall (Masters 2013). The Philippian government reported 5,632 confirmed deaths and 26,136 injured as of November 30 with numbers continuing to rise (Del Rosario 2013). It is anticipated that Haiyan will be the deadliest of any disaster in the history of the Philippines when a final count is obtained. Over 14.4 million people were affected by the disaster with more than 3.62 million people displaced from their homes (Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan Situation Report No. 19 2013).

Satellite Image of Super Typhoon Haiyan (EUMETSAT 2013)
Satellite Image of Super Typhoon Haiyan (EUMETSAT 2013)

Infrastructure across the country was severely crippled. An early UNICEF rapid assessment estimated that 80 to 90 percent of schools in Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo provinces (Western Visayas region) were partially or completely damaged. The government estimates nearly 1.1 million houses were damaged, including over half that were completely destroyed. In some regions, over 40% of medical facilities were not operational. Access to safe water supplies and sanitation facilities are still a major challenge in many areas. While the power of the storm was unprecedented, were we prepared?

Traditionally development projects and funding tend to focus on the poorest of countries. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and indices such as the Human Development Index (HDI) are typical measures used to allocate resources to countries with the greatest need. Fundamentally, development programs aim to raise people from poverty, promote healthy lives, and raise people’s quality of life. Natural disasters threaten these central objectives so it is not a surprise that they are part of the discussion of development strategies and practices.

As of 2012, the Philippines had a HDI of 0.654, just shy of the East Asia and Pacific average of 0.683 and world average of 0.694 (World Bank 2013). The country falls roughly in the middle and by no means at the bottom. Income statistics paint a slightly different picture with 42% of Filipinos living on less than $2 a day among a total population of 96 million. However, this percentage is still small in comparison with a nation such as the Democratic Republic of Congo with over 95% of its population below $2 a day. The point of these statistics is that the Philippines is not likely the country that comes to mind when we think of development programs.

Historically, we have been reactive to disasters, not proactive. This has changed in recent years as we try to build more resilient communities and infrastructure to prepare for disaster events, but are we targeting the right regions?

A recent report published by Alliance Development Works in collaboration with the United Nations has shed new light on how we look at disasters in the context of development. Rather than look at disasters as equal in impact across geography and social structures, the report outlines a new index to present a holistic view of the potential impact of disasters (Beck et al. 2012). The World Risk Index combines five areas: Exposure, Vulnerability, Susceptibility, Lack of Coping Abilities, and Lack of Adaptive Abilities. The Philippines ranked third on the overall risk index out of 173 nations examined. Interestingly, the Philippines was only in the top 15 countries on one of the five individual factors that contribute to total risk. Its social vulnerability, political structure, or state of infrastructure did not place the Philippines top on anyone’s list of development priorities, but in combination these factors demonstrate a pressing need.

World Risk Index, 2012
World Risk Index, 2012

As we strive to incorporate resiliency into development projects, we need to consider where preventative disaster measures are needed most. Rather than rely on any single measure, we need to examine disaster impacts from a holistic view, considering how economic, social, and environmental factors interact with each other.

A full copy of the 2012 World Risk Index Report can be found here.

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