Lessons Learned from Super Typhoon Yolanda

Give2Asia Intern Elizabeth Rogers writes about disaster preparedness as Super Typhoon Hagupit makes landfall on Saturday, December 6.

Source: BBC News Asia / US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Source: BBC News Asia / US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center

In July of this year, Give2Asia, IIRR, and many local and international NGOs gathered to discuss best practices for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and disaster preparedness. These discussions are more relevant now than ever, as Super Typhoon Hagupit makes landfall Saturday, December 6.

Why has the Pacific hurricane season been so active?

This year, while the Atlantic hurricane season has been quiet, the season in the Pacific has been more active. Normally this is the case for an El Niño year – a year when the sea temperatures in the Pacific rise a half a degree above normal and stay there for three months. This year’s temperatures reached that level briefly but did not stay. Perhaps due to this short rise in temperature, the Eastern Pacific hurricane season has been so busy, exacerbating the challenges faced by already disaster-vulnerable nations such as the Philippines.

Philippines’s Disaster Vulnerability

The Philippines ranks high on most risk indexes. It ranks third on the World Risk Index, and seventh on the Global Risk Index. It has also been named among the top ten countries vulnerable to climate change – meaning as sea levels and temperatures rise, nations such as the Philippines will experience some of the most detrimental effects. Such effects include extreme weather patterns, changes in previously reliable weather patterns, as well as changes to available resources such as fish stock. Since the 1980s, damage from flash floods has increased, and as the sea temperatures rise, the amount and types of fish caught are being affected, in part due to the types of species that are able to survive in these new climates. To make matters worse, many areas of the Philippines are put at even greater risk due to issues such as environmental degradation caused by logging, mining, and general deforestation.

(Learn more about disaster vulnerabilities in the Philippines here.)

Community-Managed Disaster Preparedness in the Philippines: Themes from the Conference

However, this is not to say nothing can be or has been done. Multiple NGOs and other organizations have been working in the Philippines and other countries for many years. At Give2Asia and IIRR’s conference in July, some of these organizations shared their best practices and challenges. Many cited logistics, communication, and access as main challenges, and that coordinating with local governments was key to success. Any and all efforts needed to focus on the local levels in addition to city, provincial, and national levels. In addition to this, they found that it was necessary to treat the people affected by disaster as survivors – not victims. This is in part to establish a multi-stakeholder investment, including the government, businesses, residents, and relief organizations.

A few of the successes these organizations in the Philippines saw were the establishment of early warning systems, as well as community organizations and projects to protect and rebuild coastal areas. One other focus was in promoting financial literacy in residents - residents have savings to use if and when disasters strike to use to rebuild. Several organizations pointed to risk-proof livelihoods, such as fish smoking and rug making, as another way to help communities. However, the most emphasized point was about collaboration. Much more can be accomplished working with local establishments than autonomously.

Many of the communities in the Philippines are still rebuilding and bouncing back from the devastating affects of Yolanda. As we prepare for the full effect of Ruby, we should look to the lessons learned from the past to better prepare for the future. As disaster risk reduction grows in countries around the world, communities will become better prepared. 

Learn more about Give2Asia's disaster preparedness program here