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11 Nov 13 16:37

As Typhoon Haiyan dissipates over the Asian mainland, the images of devastation that have emerged from the Philippines are truly shocking.

The full extent of the damage caused by Haiyan may not be known for days or weeks to come. But the human tragedy of the disaster is all but apparent: over 10,000 people are feared dead on the islands of Leyte and Samar, and more than 4 million people are reported injured, homeless, displaced or otherwise affected.

The Philippines is well aware of the typhoon hazard. In fact, Jesuit missionaries in Manila were among leading typhoon researchers in the late 19th century. But despite strong efforts for adequate building practices and early warnings, a large proportion of the population lacks the means for correspondingly adequate protection.

Upon reaching the Philippines on Friday morning, Typhoon Haiyan packed sustained winds of 300 km per hour, causing a storm surge and waves as high as two-story houses. The estimated wind speeds at landfall of Typhoon Haiyan are the highest in recorded history. They correspond to wind speeds commonly observed only in strong tornadoes. It's almost impossible to build everyday structures that can fully withstand winds of such force. Even many newer houses and office buildings in cities like Manila would suffer severe damage.

In fact, had Haiyan swept across the region just 200 to 300 km to the north, it would have struck the Philippine capital of Manila. It's hard to imagine the consequences. But we can be certain that this would have led to even more fatalities, widespread chaos in the city and huge economic and insurance losses.

A typhoon like Haiyan could potentially affect some 12.6 million residents in the metropolitan region of Manila alone, as highlighted by a recent Swiss Re study (http://media.swissre.com/documents/Swiss_Re_Mind_the_risk.pdf). It would massively disrupt the Philippine economy: In terms of productivity losses from storm events like this, Manila ranks #6 worldwide and #1 when looking at the effects on the country's national economy.

Typhoon Haiyan is a humanitarian catastrophe. It is also a tragic reminder of how important it is to further improve the resilience to natural disasters in a region that is heavily exposed to typhoons, floods and earthquakes.

Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Haiyan_(2013)


Category: Climate/natural disasters: Floods/storms

Location: Philippines


3 Comments

Alicia Montoya - 12 Nov 2013, 6:05 a.m.

Thanks, Peter. And agree, it's heart-breaking. Just read that the Philippino climate envoy to COP19 broke down in tears at the start of UN climate talks in Warsaw yesterday, pledging to fast for the duration of the 2-week summit unless a meaningful deal is agreed to tackle escalating climate change threats. So sad and, having attended COP17 and seen how hard it is to make any kind of progress on reaching a multinational consensus, I'm not sure our friend won't be feeling very hungry by the end of the summit! http://ow.ly/qIUSF

The more I read about this issue, the more I think local initiatives that can be scaled up and replicated if successful, may be more of a solution than waiting for Godot (a global climate agreement). But I guess we need both (price on carbon and local projects)? Here's a story on (re)developing wetlands that filled me with hope: https://openminds.swissre.com/stories/502/

Patrick Reichenmiller - 12 Nov 2013, 1:36 p.m.

The scale of the devastation and the many human tragedies emerging from this event are just shocking, and I just couldn't believe it when I heard yet another storm was heading toward the Philippines. Thank goodness, storm Zoraida has since been downgraded to a low-pressure system. Although it won't pose a huge threat anymore, it will likely bring heavy rain to the region and increase the risk of flooding - and this can happen practically anywhere and take various forms. Swiss Re's flood app provides a vivid illustration of this, along with the risk of flooding in central Manila: http://www.swissre.com/library/Apps/The_Flood_App_for_iPad.html

Vineet Kumar - 14 Nov 2013, 9:30 a.m.

It is truly shocking to see the extent of devastation and human tragedy from Cyclone Haiyan. It could take years to bring the region back to normalcy. While there are limitations from an engineering/cost perspective what can be done to mitigate the impact from such a monster storm (some estimates with sustained winds over 300 kmh close to what is observed in severe tornadoes), damage can be significantly reduced from future storms by hardening the structures, building sea walls, and better land use planning. Here is a story on if it is possible to design buildings at very high level of wind speeds: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3021580/innovation-by-design/is-it-even-possible-to-design-buildings-that-can-withstand-250-mph-typh
Most important thing is that new structures as part of rebuilding efforts in this region must be designed to resist high cyclonic wind speeds. Every year many storms affect the region, there are probably few other places to get better return on the mitigation investment with certainty in a relatively short time horizon.


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