The Philippines is considered one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Its location makes it vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters. Lying on the western rim of the pacific and along the circum-pacific seismic belt, it is subject to storms, typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, droughts and faces other natural hazards. Disasters are a serious threat to people and economic assets, particularly in densely populated areas. At least 60 percent of the total land area of the country is exposed to multiple hazards, and as a result 74 percent of its population is vulnerable.
With 268 recorded disaster events over the last three decades, the Philippines ranks 8th according to World Bank’s Natural Disaster Hotspot list of countries most exposed to multiple hazards (Table 1). Almost 30 percent of the disasters that occurred in Southeast Asia for the period 1990-2009 (Table 2) occurred in the Philippines.
Historic Overview of Disasters
Earthquakes: The U.S. Geological Survey lists 168 significant (with a magnitude of 6.5+ on the Richter scale) earthquakes in the Philippines since 1959, equivalent to an event every 2.5 years. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has recorded 12 destructive earthquakes in the last 40 years; the most damaging of which were the 1976 Mindanao Earthquake, which killed approximately 6,000 and caused about US $400 million (in present value) in damage, and the 1990 Central Luzon Earthquake, which killed over 1,000 people and caused damages of about US $400 million (in present value).
A comprehensive seismic hazard analysis for the Philippines has not been prepared. However, more recent studies shows that accelerations in the Metro Manila area are about 0.4g, comparable to those in San Francisco, Tokyo and other high-seismic areas.
Volcanoes: Out of 220 volcanoes in the archipelago, 22 are classified as active. The most active volcanoes in the Philippines are Bulusan, Mayon, Canlaon and Taal. The most recent major eruption in the country is the Mount Pinatubo eruption in June 1991. PHIVOLCS forecast of the event saved at least 5,000 lives and US $250 million worth of property and infrastructure.
A review of historic record indicates that central and southern Luzon are likely to experience a significant eruption about once every three years, with a major eruption perhaps every few decades. Mayon and Taal are the most active of these volcanoes.
Tropical cyclones: The climate of the Philippines is tropical and is strongly affected by monsoon (rain-bearing) winds, which blow from the southwest from approximately May to October and from the northeast from November to February. From June to December, an average of twenty typhoons hits the country accompanied by strong winds, intense rainfall and flooding. Five to seven of which are expected to be destructive. Most storms come from the southeast, with their frequency generally increasing from south to north. Luzon has significantly higher risk than the southern part of the country, where typhoons are heaviest in Samar, Leyte, eastern Quezon Province and the Batanes Islands.
Flooding: Floods are usually triggered by typhoons, tropical depression and continuing heavy rains. They are also triggered by man-made causes such as dam failures, blockage of water ways by garbage and improper design of street drainage.
Exposure and Vulnerability
The average annual damage caused by disasters amounts to Pesos 19.7 billion in the past two decades, equivalent to an average of 0.5 percent of GDP each year. In addition, agricultural damage is estimated at Pesos 12 billion per annum, and an average of 1,008 people are killed annually by natural disasters. Typhoons are the most frequent and the most damaging of all natural disasters in the Philippines. The poor are the most vulnerable to the damage caused by natural disasters as they are the ones left homeless and whose livelihoods are destroyed by the vagaries of the weather. Since almost one-third of the country’s employment is based on agriculture, natural disasters have contributed to the increasing incidence of poverty, especially in the rural areas.
In urban areas, those living in calamity-prone areas such as riverbanks and estuaries are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Those in flood-prone areas, along the coast and on steep slopes in upland areas are also at risk. Natural disasters increase their vulnerability and perpetuate deprivation and marginalization.
The scale and significance of disasters is illustrated by the impact on lives and livelihoods illustrated in Table 3 below. As a result of 121 disasters that struck the country from 2000 to 2008, more than 36 million people were affected, 8,177 lives were lost, 374,798 became homeless and 6,261 were injured.
Determinants of Vulnerability to Natural Disasters in the Philippines
Urbanization: Rapid urbanization in the country has led to urban squalor and the proliferation of unplanned, informal and overcrowded settlements, often in hazard-prone areas. As of 2002, the country had about 1.2 million families of informal settlers who were vulnerable to typhoons and flooding. Demographic growth and urbanization have also affected provision of basic services, resulting in deteriorating solid waste management and siltation of rivers and drainage channels. These poor urban practices are aggravating flooding in urban areas for the past years and are expected to make the situation more severe in the future.
Environmental degradation: Environmental degradation has hugely contributed to increasing natural disaster occurrence in the Philippines. Demographic growth and poor land-use planning have led to the massive depletion of natural resources and destruction of the environment. Flash flooding, landslides and drought have increased in the past two decades as a result of declining forest cover. Certain areas that have substantially lost their forest cover are also more exposed to typhoons.
Climate change: Risks from global climate change are further exacerbating the country’s vulnerability to natural hazards. In the last 15 years alone, the country has recorded the strongest typhoon, the most destructive typhoons, the deadliest storm and the typhoon with the highest 24-hour rainfall. These climate trends seem to fit the scientific evidence that rising sea surface temperatures enhance the destructiveness of tropical cyclones. The Philippines is expected to experience substantial rise in sea levels, making 70 percent of the 1,500 municipalities located along the coast vulnerable to this phenomenon. The country is also witnessing longer episodes of drought or El Niño, causing a large drop in the volume of agricultural production and sharp declines in GDP.
The mandate for overall policy and coordination of disaster risk management (DRM) efforts in the Philippines is enshrined in Presidential Decree Nos. 1 (1972) and 1566 (1978), which led to the creation of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). These laws: (a) adopt a Comprehensive Disaster Management Framework that divides DRM into four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response and rehabilitation; (b) call for the preparation of a National Calamity and Disaster Preparedness Plan; and (c) allow for the utilization of the Calamity Fund for activities related to DRM.
The NDCC is an inter-agency council responsible for disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation. It is chaired by the Secretary of National Defense with the heads of 18 departments as members. In the discharge of its functions, the NDCC utilizes the facilities and services of the Office of Civil Defence as its operating arm. It serves as the President’s adviser on disaster preparedness programs, disaster operations and rehabilitation efforts undertaken by the government and the private sector. NDCC is a policy and coordinating agency and does not implement activities related to DRM. It operates through member agencies and its local networks (i.e., the regional and local disaster coordinating councils), which are responsible for planning, implementing, funding and carrying out specific activities related to DRM. The NDCC adopted a Disaster Management Framework to address the different stages of disaster management.Source: Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery/World Bank