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In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan caused untold devastation across much of the eastern Philippines. With a presence in eight locations across the country, we were on hand to provide support to displaced families and ravaged communities. … more about our charity work in Philippines

Risk and relief: Reducing the impact of natural disaster

Clear communication of need, targeted relief, coordination between organisations, ongoing commitment and long-term climate resilience – all this and more is needed to protect at-risk communities
Clear communication of need, targeted relief, coordination between organisations, ongoing commitment and long-term climate resilience – all this and more is needed to protect at-risk communities

With Typhoon Haiyan now a year behind us, guest blogger Isabelle looks into how societies in at-risk zones can protect themselves from future disasters, and how relief can reach every person in need.

It’s been just over a year since Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most intense tropical cyclones recorded in the Asia-Pacific region, struck the Philippines. It’s responsible for more than 6,000 deaths in the country; more than 4 million people are displaced because of it; and over 14 million were affected by it in some way. The damage to infrastructure and the economy was devastating. Subsequent hazards, such as looting, violence, and oil spills occurred in the aftermath.

Despite a strong international response in aid, recovering from a calamity of this magnitude is not simple. Residents of the country are trying to move on but too many are still homeless, jobless, and suffering from psychological trauma and physical injuries.

Disaster risk: The global picture

Today, more people live in urban areas than rural ones, and many of these locations are situated along the coast. This puts them under threat from various natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis. A 2013 report by Swiss Re, “Mind the risk”, highlights the many zones that face specific dangers: cities in the USA are affected by hurricanes; Japanese metropolises by earthquakes; and China by storms. Other jeopardised nations include Taiwan, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. African regions are mostly susceptible to floods.

Overlooked risk areas include cities in Peru, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, France, and the Netherlands. Overall, Asia and Oceania are the most vulnerable to peril – this is due to a combination of factors, including densely populated cities and the fact that they face multiple deadly threats. Millions of people in each of these regions are at risk. The study states that since most major cities developed along the sea or waterways, floods endanger more people than any other catastrophe.

Disaster hotspots

Girl standing amid the rubble Typhoon Haiyan
Children are among those most at-risk from the effects of natural disaster. Not only are they vulnerable, they can also suffer from disrupted education.

According to a World Bank article, low-income countries account for more than 70% of the world’s disaster ‘hotspots’. A third of the planet’s poor people live in multi-hazard zones – and are therefore the most vulnerable. Additionally, the disasters’ impact on GDP is 20 times higher in developing nations than industrialised ones. People are left with few or no options for earning an income; The Guardian reports that many women from the Haiyan-hit areas, in the Philippines, have entered the sex industry to support their families.

Among these populations, children, the elderly, and disabled people are particularly at risk. During disasters they can be left behind or separated from family, and are more defenceless against natural calamities. The lack of food, water, and medical supplies makes it harder to survive. Furthermore, children’s education is disrupted – often permanently. This prevents future generations from ever fully recovering.

Reducing the risk

We can never stop the planet from wreaking havoc, but we can minimise the damage and lasting effects of such occurrences. The Hyogo Framework for Action – an initiative of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction – is a 10-year plan designed to make the world safer from natural hazards. The strategy outlines five priorities for action, which aim to build the resilience of nations and reduce disaster losses by 2015:

  1. Make disaster risk reduction a national priority, implementing it in policies, legislations, and institutions. Ensure that excluded minorities, including children, are represented in these. Track progress through specific and measurable indicators. 
  2. Identify, assess, and monitor risks, and enhance early warning systems. Know the different types of hazards and vulnerabilities of each area.
  3. Use education, innovation, and public awareness to build a culture of safety and resilience. Ensure that people are well-informed and motivated towards such a culture. For example, teach people the difference between storm surges and tsunamis, and what to do in each scenario.
  4. Reduce underlying risk factors related to social, economic, and environmental conditions. Address these in sector development planning and programmes, as well as in post-disaster situations.
  5. Strengthen disaster preparation for quick and effective response. This can substantially reduce impact and losses.

Spreading the reach of emergency relief

Typhoon Haiyan house under reconstruction
Climate resilience is essential if communities are to withstand natural disaster. These homes near Tacloban are being built to last.
A year later, millions of Filipinos are still living in temporary shelters and evacuation centres, or along unsafe coastal areas in plastic/tarpaulin housing. Governments need to provide disaster-resilient materials that can withstand powerful winds and water, and build these on elevated areas. Basic amenities such as blankets, water and food supplies, and first aid kits can be lifesavers. Robust disaster management strategies and practices are crucial in order to minimise losses and maximise recovery. Lean Alfred Santos, from Devex.com, identifies “The 5C’s” in lessons learned after the Haiyan.

Firstly, information has to be suitably conveyed to various groups; so clear communication is required between officials, aid workers, and victims. Then context – understanding and incorporating operational plans; international humanitarian response plans should align with local and national rehabilitation plans. Thirdly, coordination: the lack of it led to some communities being neglected after Haiyan (many organisations rightly focused on the worst-hit locations, but other regions need support as well). Commitment and compassion are also essential. It’s easy for people to become overwhelmed and despondent in these crises, but Santos says experience and determination should drive them forward.

Lastly – and I think this is the most important – climate resilience. Through higher rainfall, changing temperatures, and rising sea levels, climate change has an effect on the magnitude and frequency of natural hazards. This makes the Philippines and other countries even more vulnerable to natural disasters, and reverses any progress already made. There needs to be more focus on sustainable practices and introducing environmentally friendly policies. Using ecological processes and technologies, we should re-evaluate current farming and forestry management. This in turn controls the exploitation of natural resources, and strengthens food security after disasters.

All these strategies need implementation from the ground up to policy level. Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, says, “The more governments, UN agencies, organizations, businesses and civil society understand risk and vulnerability, the better equipped they will be to mitigate disasters when they strike and save more lives.”

A year after the disaster, SOS Children are still there for those worst-affected by Typhoon Haiyan, supporting orphaned children, rebuilding homes and schools, and restoring livelihoods so families can thrive long into the future. Find out more.