Expert Opinion

1 in 10 Filipinos affected by Haiyan, as picture of mass displacement emerges

Over a week after being launched on 12 November the Haiyan Action Plan is funded at 43 per cent by over 40 UN Member States, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), multilateral institutions, the private sector and individual donors. Meanwhile, the number of houses damaged or destroyed is now estimated at 1.14 million.

“Super typhoon” Haiyan made first landfall in the central region of Visayas in the Philippines over the weekend. A category 5 typhoon, Haiyan, known locally as typhoon Yolanda, is feared to be the most devastating disaster to have affected the Philippines in recent history.

With over ten per cent of the country’s population affected- around 11.3 million people- across nine regions- the disaster continues to rapidly evolve as more information trickles in from cut-off and inaccessible areas. President Aquino of the Philippines has declared a national state of calamity, and the UN has issued an international appeal requesting $US301 million to assist the government to respond to the crisis.

At least 673,000 people have been displaced, including people taking refuge in government-run evacuation centres or staying with host families. Tragically, some evacuation centres were destroyed as they were not built with an event of this strength in mind. Many internally displaced people (IDPs) are reported to have set up tents or makeshift shelters near their damaged homes. Some others whose dwellings are situated along the coastline have, however, not been allowed to return.

Repeated displacement as communities hit time and time again

According to IDMC’s estimates, well over a million people are displaced each year in the Philippines due to rapid-onset disasters. Haiyan is the latest and the largest in a series of disasters to affect the country in recent weeks and months alone. In Bohol province, for example, over three million people were affected by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on 15 October, and requested aid has been slow in coming. Even as Haiyan brought fresh disaster to the area, around 360,000 people were still displaced by the earthquake, most of whom were living under tents and makeshift shelters when the typhoon struck. On the country’s largest island of Luzon, outside the Haiyan-affected areas, thousands of people were displaced and are still recovering from the effects of a series of typhoons, floods and landslides since August which left some 82,500 houses damaged, and livelihoods destroyed.

Some of the areas hit by the typhoon are among the poorest in the Philippines with below average development indicators and therefore a diminished capacity to cope with external shocks. In the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line with also high level of malnutrition.

Applying lessons now to avoid prolonged and repeated displacement in the future

Even while the disaster’s impact is still being assessed and the need to meet the most urgent, life-saving needs will remain a priority for the immediate future, lessons from past disasters point to the need to already start planning in activities that will support sustainable recovery and mitigate against further disaster.

Reintegration back home or through relocation to other places will be delayed or uncertain for many displaced people without access to safe locations and the means to rebuild or repair severe damage to an estimated 500,000 homes. Clear guidance and monitoring of minimum standards to ensure rebuilt homes are resilient to natural hazards will be key to avoid recreating the same conditions of vulnerability and exposure that led to the disaster in the first place.

The importance of such measures is further highlighted by climate change projections that such extreme weather events will be seen more frequently in future. Following an impassioned appeal to fellow governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw yesterday, the Philippines’ representative said, “we know that the science is clear that climate change will mean more intensive typhoons potentially, and even if we can’t attribute Haiyan to climate change directly, my country refuses to accept a future where super-typhoons become a regular fixture.”

Read IDMC’s report on disaster displacement in the Philippines (January 2013) and IDMC’s Global Estimates 2012: People displaced by disasters (May 2013) [pages 22-26].