Typhoon Haiyan hit the central islands of the Philippines on the 8th November 2013 with a force that killed between 6,000 and 7,500 people. With sustained wind speeds of more than 310 kilometres per hour, Haiyan was the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history.
The Category 5 typhoon made its first landfall over Guiuan, Eastern Samar, early on the 8th November, and left the Philippines on the 9th November. Storm surge waves reached 6 to 7 metres, drowning many of the victims of the typhoon and destroying large amounts of property. More than 16 million people were affected by the typhoon, of which over 4 million were displaced.
According to The Guardian Corazón “Dinky” Solíman, head of the Philippines Department for Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that, “The preparation of the local governments and the national government agencies was not equal to the strength of the typhoon,” and she listed some of the factors that contributed to the mayhem. A population accustomed to living with typhoons had underestimated the strength of Haiyan, causing many people to stay in their homes when the storm made its devastating landfall. Evacuation centres became death traps after they filled with water. Emergency response teams, such as medics and police officers – who could have helped in the wake of the typhoon – were also victims of its wrath, leaving whole regions lawless and vulnerable as desperate survivors scoured the streets looking for food, water and medicine.
There were many problems associated with disaster relief, the official Philippine Government Report by the Commission of Audit identified numerous failings, large foreign donations were not used in part or in whole (and in some cases may have been misappropriated). The Report said that agencies “failed to implement planned activities due to lack of coordination and monitoring activities.” The Report also stated that $10.8 million of donations received from both local and foreign sources intended for victims of the typhoon was not utilised. Food supplies were not delivered in a timely matter, and the distribution was patchy. It was also alleged in The Guardian that distribution favoured wards which supported President Benigno Aquino III, there were also claims that food was dumped in rubbish tips.
The UN OCHA Environmental Assessment report issued on the 18th June 2014, said that over one million houses, governmental administrative and social services facilities have been totally or partially destroyed. Over 40 million coconut palms were damaged or destroyed and there was significant damage to mangroves and probably also damage to coral reefs. They raised concerns about the relocation of people from “no-dwelling zones”, although OCHA did not say so, after previous disasters in Asia, local dwellings have often been replaced by tourism developments with no compensation being paid to those relocated.
The Impact of Climate Change
Mori et al noted in Geophysical Research Letters (July 2014) that, “Several severe storm surge disasters have been observed since 2000, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The minimum pressure of Typhoon Haiyan was 35 hPa lower than that of Hurricane Katrina at landfall [National Climatic Data Center, 2005], and such super typhoons are expected to increase both in number and intensity as a result of global climate change [Bender et al., 2010; Schiermeier, 2010].” Bender et al predicted (Science, 2010) that their “model projects nearly a doubling of the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the 21st century, despite a decrease in the overall frequency of tropical cyclones.”
Kerry Emanuel found that his research (2013) indicates that the frequency of downscaled tropical cyclones will increase during the 21st century in most locations. “The intensity of such storms, as measured by their maximum wind speeds, also increases, in agreement with previous results. Increases in tropical cyclone activity are most prominent in the western North Pacific, but are evident in other regions except for the southwestern Pacific.”
The conclusions of the reports into the disaster indicate that the suffering of the victims was heightened by poor administration and governance, although no matter how good the systems in place this would probably have not had a significant impact on the death toll. What is also of concern is recent research which indicates that the frequency and power of these super-storms is probably affected by climate change. The outlook for the inhabitants of the Philippines and other similar parts of the world is not good, as Yolanda may well be the herald of similar future events.
© Andrew Palmer, 2014