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