To provide us with a context on the Philippine disaster management and response, let us have a brief look at the population, geography, and disaster and calamity profile of the country.
The Philippines has 108M+ people in an archipelago of 7,000+ islands
The population in the Philippines as of 2019 is a 108,628,931 and it is growing at a rate of almost 2% between 2015 to 2019 (Philippine Population 2019). It is the 13th most populated country in the world according to the World Population Review 2019.
The Philippines is an archipelago consisting of over 7,000 islands and with a total area of 300,000 square kilometres, most of these islands are small with only a few large land areas like Luzon and Mindanao (World Population Review, 2019).
Manila, the capital of the Philippines, ranks 1st as the most densely populated city in the world. It has 41,515 people living in each square kilometre followed by Mumbai at 28,508 people per square kilometre. Caloocan, another city in the Philippine ranks 4th with 27,916 people per sq km. (Word Atlas, 2019).
A country prone to natural disasters
The article, “Philippines: A country prone to natural disasters” describes how the Philippines have suffered from a number of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and other natural disasters primarily because of its location close to the Ring of fire, typhoon belt in the pacific ocean region where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions takes place (Deutsche Welle, 2013).
The latest example was in October 2019, the Mindanao region, particularly the Cotabato Province, experienced an earthquake swarm, a series of strong earthquakes with three exceeding 6 magnitudes. Aftershocks are still being felt as of the writing of this blog post.
The quakes caused landslides and damaged infrastructure and buildings. On the 16th October earthquake, seven people died, two were reported missing, and 395 injured, and more than 2,700 houses, buildings, schools, and hospitals were damaged (Aljazeera, 2019 October). After the 29th and 31st October earthquakes, 22 people died and 424 were further injured.
So why is the Philippines so disaster-prone?
Here are five reasons according to the National Geographic article:
- Warm ocean waters. Because the Philippines sits just above the equator, it is surrounded by warm ocean waters at 28 degrees C. These warm waters ‘powers storms’, that brings 20 typhoons a year.
- Coastal Homes. In the Philippines, 60% of the populations live along low-lying coastal areas.
- Deforestations. Bare hillsides lead to mudslides that can kill people during typhoons, clog waterways that result in cholera outbreaks.
- The Philippines is in the ring of fire, which makes it experience earthquakes and volcanic activity more frequently.
- Underdevelopment and poor population. Poor people settling in coastal areas have houses and dwellings made of flimsy materials that cannot withstand typhoons and storm surges. And inadequate evacuation plans in the Philippines also contributes to the number of people affected by these disasters.
Major disasters and calamities in the Philippines
The DW article, “Philippines: A country prone to natural disasters” listed the major disasters and calamities that are hitting the country. These are typhoons, earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters that have hit the country in the past decade, the number of casualties – death and displacements, and the cost of damage (Philippines: A country, 2013).
The Relief Web, a specialized digital service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a list of Philippines Floods and Landslide events in 2018, the number of families and people affected, and the cost of damage to the country particularly on its agriculture and infrastructure.
The UN OCHA also published a report that highlights Philippine Events in 2018 in the form of tropical cyclones, seismic activities, volcano eruption – particularly that of the Mayon Volcano eruption in January 2018, and displacements in Mindanao from natural hazard and armed-conflict.
In 2018, 21 tropical cyclones and depressions have entered the Philippines area of responsibility, 8 has made landfall, and 1 of the 8 is a category 4 cyclone. A total of 5,868 seismic activities has been reported, the strongest of which is a 7.2 magnitude offshore quake in Davao Oriental on 29 December 2018, scaring the coastal communities in that region (Philippines Floods, 2019).
Managing and coping with disasters and calamities in the Philippines
How does the country manage and respond to these frequent disasters? What steps are they taking to prepare and mitigate these events?
We read from an article on The Rappler, a popular online news website in the Philippines about the disaster response management and the post-disaster procedures in the Philippines, and the government departments and agencies involved.
It says that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is the agency in the Philippines ‘tasked to prepare for and respond to natural calamities. It also uses strategies to mitigate the impact of disasters and increase the resiliency of both the national government and local government (LGUs) in the face of disasters.”
The mitigation strategies the NDRRMC is doing, especially one that takes into account climate change, and the country’s infrastructure is included and discussed in the Philippines Disaster Management Reference Handbook, March 2018.
Who is in charge of disasters in the Philippines?
According to the Rappler article, “Explainer: Who’s supposed to be in charge during disasters?” when calamity or disaster hits the Philippines, which quite frequent, the government’s National Disaster Response Plan under the NDRRMC is activated.
It consists of 3 stages that can sometimes overlap. Below is a summary of the stages:
The first stage is the pre-disaster risk assessment action, plants and protocol or simply put, emergency response preparedness. Ideally, this should happen before the hazard or emergency and includes assessments of possible risks. This first stage alone involves many government departments and agencies like the office of civil defence, social welfare, department of interior and local government, and representatives from more government departments.
The second stage involves Response Clusters and Incident Management Teams (IMT). This happens during or when disaster hits. The rallying of relief and response happens at this stage. Again, this stage involves several government agencies and departments.
Management of resources and personnel is under the Incident management teams, while mandate and technical expertise are under the response clusters, implying a clear and separate function of each team involved during relief and response operation.
For instance, agencies involved in the Response clusters include the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Health department, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine National Police, Department of Foreign Affairs – in case foreign assistance is needed, among others.
The third and final stage is the Response cluster and IMT demobilization and deactivation. This is the transition to recovery and rehabilitation and where response clusters slowly move out. Post-disaster activities happen at this stage where response clusters review their operations and document their operations, lessons learned, and best practices to help improve policies.
To read the entire article click the link here: Explainer: Who’s supposed to be in charge during disasters?
While from an outsider’s point of view, the sheer number of government departments and agencies involved, add to the mix is its non-governmental and religious organisation partners look overwhelming, we can safely assume that the Philippines have been studying and implementing best practices in disaster management.
Of course, the oversight and coordination of these various department and agencies involved in the response and relief operation might seem to be big tasks but this network could have been formed as a result of the many many years and numerous events of responding to disaster and calamities.
Past disasters and calamities, such as the Haiyan typhoon in 2013, have taught the people and the government many lessons in disaster preparedness and response and it is a matter of learning from these lessons.
We all can agree that best practices in disaster preparedness and emergency response planning can only be most effective when it is applied correctly.
For additional reading on the Philippine situation, please read our previous blog post, “Is the Philippines Getting a Firm Grip on Climate Change,” which summarizes the 70-page report by the World Bank on the country’s policies and funding on climate change, and the report’s recommendation on how to implement and integrate climate actions into the country’s policies.