Asia | Forcible displacement from natural disasters
The Philippines is in one of the most disaster-prone regions globally. Its vulnerability to natural disasters, particularly tropical cyclones, is deeply rooted in its location. Situated along the typhoon belt and exposed to the Pacific Ocean, the country faces a recurring threat from devastating weather phenomena. With inadequate infrastructure and socio-economic vulnerabilities further compounding the risks, the country faces several challenges in the aftermath of such disasters, the prime among them being human security.
Typhoon Rai (Odette), the second deadliest natural hazard witnessed by the world in 2021, made a fierce landfall in the Philippines on December 16th. The storm rapidly intensified into a category 5 Super Typhoon (STY) just hours before slamming into Siargao, an island in the province of Surigao del Norte. Sustained winds reaching nearly 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour battered the island, leaving behind devastation. With torrential rains, violent winds, landslides, and storm surges, the typhoon wreaked havoc across other provinces such as Dinagat Islands, Southern Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Palawan. People residing in the central and southern islands of the Philippines grappled with the catastrophic aftermath of the storm’s onslaught.
Approximately 12,044,261 persons from around 3,218,730 families were affected by the STY Odette in Regions V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, Mimaropa, and Caraga. Several houses were partially or totally damaged, forcing the affected population to seek refuge in evacuation centres or make-shift shelters. These make-shift shelters built of salvaged materials provided limited protection against the heat and rain, exposing people to harsh weather conditions. The debris left by STY Odette caused physical injuries to several internally displaced people (IDPs) and posed risks to their safety.
The crowded evacuation centres presented a challenge for maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols, as IDPs could no longer wear masks or practise social distancing effectively, increasing the likelihood of contracting the virus. Additionally, access to food, water, sanitation, healthcare, psychosocial support, and livelihood was severely affected, along with access to lifelines such as electricity and communication, exacerbating the difficulties faced by the victims in the aftermath of the typhoon.
The Philippine government’s response to the devastating aftermath of STY Odette was supported and enhanced by a newly developed early hazard warning tool, PhilAWARE, developed by the Pacific Disaster Centre (PDC) and the Philippines Office of Civil Defence (OCD). The government of the Philippines swiftly mobilised resources and implemented various measures to address the needs of the affected population throughout the typhoon’s course and to address its consequences.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was placed on red alert in anticipation of STY Odette’s landfall, indicating the government’s preparedness. As the typhoon intensified, the state weather bureau raised Tropical Cyclone Wind Signal No. 4 over parts of Visayas and Mindanao, signalling the severe threat posed by the storm. In light of the imminent danger, local government units (LGUs) in the affected regions suspended classes and work, to ensure people’s safety.
The government allocated significant funds and resources to address the consequences of STY Odette. President Rodrigo Duterte assured the public that all government assets would be utilised to support relief efforts. He announced a commitment of PHP 2 billion in assistance for all provinces affected by the typhoon, reassuring the population that financial assistance would be expedited to reach the affected individuals. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released over PHP 2.8 billion to assist typhoon-stricken LGUs and replenish quick response funds of frontline agencies. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued show cause orders to 48 LGUs for their slow distribution of cash aid to the disaster victims, emphasising the need for timely humanitarian assistance.
The government also released a PHP 1.5 billion shelter assistance fund, aiming to provide PHP 10,000 to each 1,53,410 affected households. In coordination with local authorities, relief and rescue operations were conducted by the government in the heavily affected provinces. Additionally, the Metro Manila Council pledged PHP 100 million in cash assistance to Odette-hit areas, sourced from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) savings. Furthermore, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) collaborated with LGUs, NGOs, and other agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected population.
During the typhoon, an automatic price freeze was imposed in all the regions declared to be in a state of calamity. To ensure fair pricing for essential goods and services for victims of the disaster, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issued inquiry letters to investigate instances of overpricing in areas affected by the typhoon. Apart from post-disaster relief operations, the Philippine National Police monitored the prices of goods in their respective areas. Additionally, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III ordered round-the-clock processing of tax exemptions for imported goods intended for donations to the affected people.
Following the onset of STY Odette, immediate response efforts were undertaken by various international organisations including the UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA, IOM, and OCHA. These organisations promptly dispatched core relief supplies and coordinated recovery action. Financial assistance poured in from various organisations and countries to meet the humanitarian needs of the affected population and support infrastructure rehabilitation. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $2 million grant as humanitarian assistance to support the Government of the Philippines’ emergency response. Pope Francis also extended an initial contribution of 100,000 euros or PHP 5.8 million for the typhoon victims. San Miguel Corporation (SMC) distributed aid worth PHP 83.4 million for workers and students affected by the typhoon. Furthermore, crowdfunding platforms like Global Giving initiated fundraising projects to support relief efforts.
The Philippines Red Cross and World Vision Philippines launched emergency appeals and mobilised emergency teams to provide humanitarian support and deliver urgent relief and longer-term recovery efforts. The World Food Programme (WFP) promptly responded to the disaster by providing food and cash assistance to the affected population. It also provided emergency assistance, such as logistics support and telecommunications services, followed by early recovery activities. Organisations like Planet Water Foundation and Waves for Water worked to provide safe drinking water and clean water for domestic use to the affected population. The International Labour Organization (ILO) operated with partners and communities to prioritize decent work and sustainable livelihoods as key elements of the disaster response, promoting a human-centred recovery approach. The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc (RAFI) activated its Humanitarian Disaster Preparedness and Response team to mobilise relief packs, drinking water, shelter kits, and psychosocial support in the affected areas.
The displacement caused by STY Odette has exacerbated existing social tensions and inequalities within affected communities. The impact of the typhoon has disproportionately affected marginalised communities, particularly those reliant on industries such as farming and fishing. The damage inflicted on these sectors, including the loss of crops and damage to fishing equipment, has resulted in loss of livelihood, and created significant challenges for IDPs. As a result, there is heightened concern regarding the potential impact on reintegration into the workforce and employment stability. Around 2.2 million workers have been directly affected by the typhoon, with regions like Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, and Caraga facing the highest workforce impacts. In particular, women, who were already in low paid jobs in sectors such as agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, and domestic work, now face increased economic uncertainty. Additionally, the complications faced by the tourism industry and its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic have been magnified by the typhoon.
Secondly, the typhoon caused a sudden surge in demand for resources such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, and infrastructure rehabilitation. This can lead to the perception among host populations that IDPs are a burden or a threat to livelihood and local resources and can spark hostility and resentment towards displaced persons. The loss of livelihood, coupled with limited availability and distribution of necessary resources, can trigger competition, disputes, and even conflicts within the affected communities, straining social cohesion and stability. There is also an increased risk of misconceptions, stereotypes, or biases about IDPs, which can lead to further social exclusion.
Displacement situations can increase the risk of human rights violations, particularly among vulnerable populations such as women, children, and marginalized groups. Issues such as child abuse, gender-based violence, exploitation, discrimination, and inadequate access to essential services become more pronounced during times of crisis. The occurrence of human rights abuse among IDPs not only threatens their well-being but also erodes public trust in the government’s ability to protect its citizens, potentially undermining political stability.
Furthermore, the impact of the typhoon on water sources and sanitation infrastructure poses a risk of waterborne diseases. Contaminated water supplies can contribute to the outbreak of diseases, placing an additional burden on the healthcare system. Moreover, the displacement and the loss of homes and livelihoods experienced by IDPs can have profound psychological impacts on individuals and communities. This increases the need for adequate psychosocial support services to address trauma, grief, and other mental health issues, which, if left unaddressed, can undermine social well-being and recovery efforts.
The Philippines faces a high degree of susceptibility to natural hazards. The country remains exposed to a significant risk with an average of 20 typhoons annually, along with earthquakes and floods. This vulnerability is acknowledged by the EU’s Country Risk Profile, which classifies the Philippines as a high-risk nation. Additionally, the country ranks at the top of the 2022 World Disaster Risk Index, indicating its heightened exposure to frequent and severe disasters. The country also struggles with limited capacity for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The impact of STY Odette has highlighted the vulnerability of the affected regions to climate. Another recent example of the country’s vulnerability, following STY Odette, is the impact of tropical storm Paeng, which devastated communities in the BARMM region, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 150 lives. Many IDPs will likely face prolonged displacement as they grapple with the extensive damage caused by such disasters. Rebuilding homes, restoring livelihoods, and reconstructing infrastructure will be time-consuming processes, resulting in challenges for IDPs to reintegrate into their communities and regain a sense of normalcy. As climate change continues to influence the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, the Filipino population continues to endure the destructive consequences of these calamities.