The Humanitarian Effectiveness Project

Download the essay ‘Exploring ‘appropriateness’ and ‘relevance’ in the response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda’, by Jessica Field

The humanitarian context in the Philippines

The Philippines is a middle-income South East Asian country made up of over 7,000 islands, with the majority of its fast-growing population (98.3 million) living on 11 of them. The country has officially been a democracy since 1986, following the fall of President Marcos, although it experiences fluctuating levels of political stability and variable economic strength – for instance, the economy grew by 7.2% in 2013, but the country is burdened by external public debt stocks of US$38 billion (as of 2014). A forty-year conflict on the southern island of Mindanao between Moro rebels and the Government officially came to an end with a 2012 peace deal, although the radical Islamist Abu Sayyaf group continues intermittent attacks. The country has also experienced a protracted guerrilla campaign by the communist New People’s Army, with limited success in recent peace talks. Due to its location on a typhoon belt and the ‘Ring of Fire’, the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 major storms per year, and is prone to earthquakes and eruptions from the country’s 20 active volcanos.

Typhoon Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – was the 25th tropical storm in Filipino waters in 2013, making landfall on the eastern Samar Island on 8 November local time. Much of the devastating impact came from a storm surge (tidal wave), caused by the typhoon, that reached heights of 25 feet in some areas, including the city of Tacloban. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration noted that, when it made landfall, Typhoon Haiyan had sustained winds of 147mph and gusts of 171mph. It was the deadliest typhoon in the country’s recorded history. Over 14 million people were affected across 46 provinces, more than one million people saw their homes severely damaged or totally destroyed, and 4 million were rendered homeless. Within days of the typhoon’s landfall, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator formally activated a system-wide Level 3 response – designating it the highest level of humanitarian concern. This led to a large-scale interagency surge that saw over 450 international staff deployed within 3 weeks to the Philippines – a country with long-standing relationships with UN and humanitarian agencies, strong national capacities, and a well developed disaster management system.

According to the official statistics of the Government of the Philippines, the typhoon resulted in over 6,201 deaths with over 1,785 people reported missing. The total funding for the response to the emergency phase was recorded by UN OCHA as US$865 million, including cash, in-kind, bilateral and multilateral aid. US$469 million of this was channeled to the Typhoon Haiyan Strategic Response Plan (November 2013 – October 2014) – constituting 60% of the $776 million requested to fully fund the plan. The top donors to the action plan were private individuals and organisations (US$120m), followed by UN agencies ($91.4m), the UK ($57.6m), Canada ($45.4m) and the US ($42.7m). Diaspora Filipinos around the world (numbering over 10m in total) came together to raise funds and assist through remittances, which in December 2013 totalled $2.2bn – a 9.1% increase over the same month of the previous year, making a significant contribution to the overall aid effort.

Last updated May 2016.

Photo credit: Lynsey Addario/Save the Children.

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