November 6, 2018

Five Years Later: Preparedness and Protection in the Philippines

By Chris Multerer

In mid-September, government officials in the Philippines were preparing for the worst. A typhoon brewing off the coast was forecasted to bring 150 mile per hour winds. The country took preemptive and comprehensive action—issuing dozens of evacuation warnings, mobilizing thousands of police offers and soldiers, and stationing vital relief resources in vulnerable areas in preparation for the storm.

This type of preparation is relatively new for the Philippines.

Just five years ago, an equally-dangerous storm hit the archipelagic nation. The storm completely destroyed the city of Talcoban, a vibrant, low-lying city in the coastal Province of Leyte.

Within minutes of Haiyan’s landfall, 30 feet of water submerged much of the city and easily washed away the standing infrastructure.

In just over 24 hours, over 6,300 people were killed because of the storm, with as many as 16 million affected – 17 percent of the country’s population.

In the days following, the lack of emergency preparedness became increasingly more evident. Survivors ran out of food and water almost immediately, and it took days for assistance to reach many survivors. Military and the police forces were disorganized, mobilizing after the storm hit and causing civil unrest in the days until an American aircraft carrier arrived to deliver supplies.

Over the five months following the storm, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) carried out relief efforts on several fronts— providing settlement resources like tents, sheeting, and cooking sets, to assist 30,000 households.

USAID also helped in the effort to rehabilitate the nation’s considerable fishing industry, and in coordination with the World Food Program, provided more than 6,000 tons of rice to boost food security.

In the midst of the relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Haiyan, USAID started to lay the groundwork for emergency disaster training programs. The purpose for these initiatives was to ensure the government of the Philippines would be prepared for similar disasters in the future, and that wholesale humanitarian efforts would commence immediately following a storm.

After Haiyan, USAID initiated robust risk reduction programs to assist local communities, governmental agencies, and nongovernmental organizations in preparing for natural disasters. These programs require aid workers to graduate various courses in order to be certified to participate in humanitarian relief. The U.S. government’s continued presence in the Philippines post-Haiyan showcases an effort to reduce emergencies by targeting and improving the weaknesses of local disaster preparedness and risk reduction protocol.

When typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in September, 150 mile per hour winds rocked villages along the Luzon coastline. But this time, preparedness measures were in place.

Today, USAID works closely with the government of the Philippines to make disaster preparedness and planning a national effort— arming citizens with the knowledge and skills to carry out efficient evacuation plans and immediate relief efforts. Teachers, government workers, and business owners have participated in these programs to make the island nation safer and more prepared. As a result, 151,872 persons were evacuated ahead of the September storm, saving countless lives.