Disaster preparedness and
resiliency: Philippines


Population: 109,774,529

Major Threats: Typhoons, Floods, Landslides, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions, Drought

Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farmers, Coastal Communities

Locations Affected: All

Industries Affected: Agriculture, Fishing, Manufacturing

Compounding Issues: Urban Migration, Poor Land-use Planning Environmental Degradation, Climate Change

World Risk Index Ranking: 9

Global Climate Risk Index: 4

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to disaster and climate change. With over 7,000 islands, and over 36,000 kilometers of coastline, nearly everyone – 74 percent of the population – and everywhere – 80 percent of the land area – are vulnerable to disaster, with the capital of Manila considered at “extreme risk.”

Typhoons and storms, which make up 58 percent of all disasters in the country, related flooding (25 percent) and landslides (six percent) pose the greatest threats to the country. Storms surpass all other disasters in terms of number of fatalities, people affected and economic damage. Though less regular than hydrometeorological disasters, earthquakes (five percent), volcanic eruptions (five percent) and drought (< one percent) can also have devastating effects. Cumulatively, these disasters cause an average of over 1,000 deaths per year .

The Philippines Government, INGOs and local NGOs are all making attempts to address climate change and disasters at various levels. However, many of the resources put aside for this purpose are re-directed to emergency response when disasters strike, such as Typhoon Yolanda (known as Haiyan internationally) in Nov. 2013, and the flash floods caused by Typhoon Sendong (Washi internationally) in Mindanao in Dec. 2011.

Attempts to defend the nation against disasters are complicated by social forces, such as high poverty, urbanization in coastal regions, and environmental destruction, including illegal mining and logging.

However, spurred on by the nearly existential threat to the country from disasters, many expert groups have been successful implementing various disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs in the Philippines at the community level, including the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, based in Silang, Cavite.

The Filipino population and economy are growing rapidly, especially in urban centers, where over 65 percent of the country lives, 45 percent of it in poverty. While the urbanization policy has been good for economic growth, it has also increased the vulnerability of its 25 largest cities, most of them on riverbanks and coastlines. Urban vulnerability is made worse by poor housing conditions, and the low adaptive capability of the urban poor.

As stated by Antonia Loyzaga of the Manila Observatory, “the Philippines is an archipelagic country with a declared government policy that supports the urbanization of coastal cities in order to spur economic growth. Hyper-concentrating people and economic resources in coastal areas – without investing in the institutional capacity to build a shared understanding of the science of integrated risks from climate change and geological hazards – is a recipe for disaster.”

Outside of the cities, the farmers and fishermen are most affected by natural disasters. With one-third of the population working in agriculture, natural disasters also threaten food security and major sources of livelihood.

Droughts, floods and cyclones all affect the agricultural sector and the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen. Frequent storms increase the salinity level of irrigated land, leaving it unfit for agriculture, while warmer ocean water damages coral reefs, the feeding grounds for many species relied upon by local fishermen.

Environmental degradation, including logging, mining, also exposes communities to higher risks. Specifically, these factors contributed directly to devastating flash floods that struck Mindanao in 2011.

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Rising sea levels are a direct threat to approximately 70 percent of the 1,500 municipalities in the Philippines , many of which may need to relocate as a result. Climate change has also increased the frequency and severity of natural disasters.

Studies and climate change simulations show that rainfall will increase in intensity during the wet season in the Central Visayas and Southern Tagalog provinces. The country is also expected to experience longer dry seasons, exacerbated by El Nino Southern Oscillation in Mindanao

  • Typhoons, Floods & Landslides

    For the last five years, 2008-2012, the Philippines was in the top three countries for the number of natural disasters, with the most frequent being storms and floods. Storms surpass all disasters in the country in terms of highest number of fatalities, people affected and economic damage . Furthermore, the strong winds and heavy rainfall which accompany typhoons often lead to flooding or landslides.

    Most typhoons originate from the southeast and travel north, increasing in speed and intensity as they approach the Philippines. Luzon, Samar, Leyte, Eastern Quezon Province and the Batanese Islands are most prone to typhoons.

    From 1983 to 2012, 24,281 people were killed by storms, with another 99.6 million people affected. Economic losses for the country have totaled $5.9 billion. Typhoon Yolanda in late 2013 increased these totals by between 15 and 25 percent .

    Floods and landslides commonly occur as secondary hazards induced by typhoons and monsoons. The Philippines has mountainous terrain with a sharp drop to coastal areas, exposing communities in low-lying areas to high risk.

  • Drought

    Instances of drought are infrequent, typically happening as a result of El Nino. However, when they do occur, they can cause extensive damage to the population and its agriculture. Lack of water resources has a trickle down effect to the manufacturing sector as well, leading to lower economic production.

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the location of 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes, the Philippines has experienced numerous high magnitude seismic events. The country also has 22 active volcanoes. Both events are rare, but extremely destructive.

In 2004, the Philippine government, combine with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, studied the Valley fault, which runs through Metro Manila and its environs in order to identify vulnerable areas, according to flammability, evacuation difficulty and building collapse.

  • Adaptation & Local Context

    In addition to local NGOs, other local actors are involved in DRR and response efforts. Many interviewees described immediate local responses to natural disasters coming predominantly from family members and faith groups. As coordinated response to major disasters has been week in the past, these groups have played a significant role in filtering immediate aid to affected populations.

    Faith groups often have the facilities and networks to distribute aid in a timely manner. Interviewees also cited that although these groups have been quick on first response relief efforts in the past, they lack the technical capacity and knowledge of DRR to engage in activities beyond first response. Faith groups have played an important role in filling the gaps of the system and working to meet the needs of their communities. They are often seen supporting community led livelihoods, education, health and other activities projects.

    Many local NGOs also operate activities with focus in fields such as livelihoods, health, environment or social work that contribute to the efforts of DRR, but they themselves do not use the term DRR. In addition to the NGOs included in this report, communities around the country will be home to locally developed projects covering a broad range of fields. Some localized activities that could be classified as DRR are included. Many national NGOs tap into these networks when they conduct DRR work in local communities.

From 1991 to 2010, the Philippines was one of the top five recipients of disaster risk reduction grants from the international community with a total of $834.6 million in grants , primarily from Japan. It is estimated that of that funding, over $500 million was spent on emergency response, and not on preparation or resiliency programs.

The World Bank reported that a lack of coordination and insufficient scope of roles and responsibilities have hindered disasters management across agencies and sectors in the Philippines. One example is in building codes and land-use management. While the government has passed laws and policies for these purposes, the regulations are not heavily enforced. Much private development and many informal settlements continue to violate building standards to save on costs.

Donors have the opportunity to support activities to engage communities in mitigating the impact of cyclones.

Other opportunities for donors include:

  • Identification or construction of safe shelters (religious buildings and monuments in communities often can serve this purpose)
  • Community education for storm resistant housing
  • Ensuring residential areas are situated a safe distance from the water front
  • Community cyclone awareness trainings
  • Volunteers should be trained on disaster management
  • Flood forecasting and warning systems
  • Supporting research that identifies climate change influences on flooding and appropriate responses.
  • Improving watershed drainage systems and management
  • Strengthening infrastructure in rural and mountainous areas
  • Building the capacity of landslide warning systems.

Contribute directly to Give2Asia’s Disaster Preparedness Fund.

Donations will go towards supporting NGOs preparing communities for disasters across Asia.