A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Negros and Cebu provinces in central Philippines on Monday afternoon, killing dozens of people on the two major islands of the Visayas region. Strong aftershocks plus a false tsunami alert caused panic in several coastal towns. The casualties are bound to rise in quake-damaged villages as rescuers continue to search for survivors.
The earthquake is the latest disaster to hit the Philippines in the past two months. Last December, heavy rainfall caused flashfloods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in north Mindanao, killing more than a thousand people and destroying the homes of an estimated 100,000 families. Barely a month after this tragedy, a landslide buried more than 30 people in a small mining community in Pantukan, Compostela Valley in southern Mindanao. Several provinces including Cebu, Davao, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Negros, Leyte and Aklan have also suffered from floods since January.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
What makes this wave of flood disasters more worrisome, aside from the human casualties, is the fact that there was no major recent tropical cyclone to hit the country to trigger the floods and mudslides. Residents living near river banks are already thinking of relocating because if normal rains alone can cause such destructive floods, the impact of strong typhoons could well be much worse.
The Philippines is actually one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Situated inside the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippine archipelago is battered by at least 25 major storms every year. And because of climate change, it also suffers from extreme weather disturbances. Next month, several parts of the country are expected to experience an extended period of drought due to the El Nino phenomenon.
But to pin the blame on climate change for the casualties is wrong since many of the weather-related deaths are preventable. It must be emphasized that the negative effects of climate change are compounded by poverty, bad governance, and destructive economic activities.
The government’s inefficiency during crisis situations was exposed when it failed to mobilize its resources on time and coordinate the efforts of all agencies during the recent flooding and earthquake disasters. The public has the right to demand the formulation of a comprehensive disaster risk reduction program that can save lives and minimize casualties during freak weather events. Indeed, politicians were able to gather and distribute relief goods to survivors, but scientists and environmentalists insist that the government should have prioritized the setting up of an effective early warning system, emergency drills, quick response teams, and the construction of adequate infrastructure in calamity-prone areas as part of its disaster preparedness program. The geo-hazard map that the government has already completed would be rendered useless if there’s no concrete national disaster management plan.
The present government also has to explain why it re-issued logging and mining permits in landslide-prone provinces. At a minimum, it should review all large-scale mining activities and determine their impact on the country’s fragile island ecosystem. It should also reconsider the petition of multinational companies to expand their fruit plantations in the uplands of Mindanao Island.
The “inconvenient truths” of climate change have already been thoroughly discussed by academics, the media and even government institutions. Everybody knows that strong typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are common in this part of the world. The Philippines is a country that should excel in disaster preparedness, but unfortunately its climate change adaptation program is a major disaster.
The Philippines has suffered from an inexhaustible number of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters. This is due to its location along the Ring of Fire, or typhoon belt – a large Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
Annually, approximately 80 typhoons develop above tropical waters, of which 19 enter the Philippine region and six to nine make landfall, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
The Philippines is in fact the country most exposed to tropical storms in the world. Violent tropical storms, such as the latest Haiyan typhoon, can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Here is a list of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, cyclones and other natural disasters the Philippines has had to cope with during the past decade - leaving thousands of people dead and the country's infrastructure and economy in tatters.
Bohol earthquake, October 2013
In the early morning hours of October 15, 2013 the island province of Bohol, located in Central Visayas in the Philippines, was disrupted by the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years. The earthquake lasted 34 seconds and had a magnitude size of 7.2. The Bohol earthquake had an impact on the entire Central Visayas region. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) 222 people died, 976 were injured, and more than 73,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. It has been estimated that the energy the quake released was equivalent to 32 Hiroshima bombs.
Typhoon Bopha, November – December 2012
Super typhoon Bopha made landfall on December 3, 2012, on the Philippines' southern island of Mindanao, which had been destroyed by the Washi storm a year before. Bopha caused widespread destruction on the island with more than 600 fatalities. The super typhoon reached an unusually minimal latitude, coming extremely close to the equator and is in fact the second-most southerly super typhoon labelled “category 5” – the highest level when it comes to a typhoon's maximum wind force and the scale of the potential damage it can inflict. The damage was estimated at more than $1 billion (749 million euros).
Pantukan landslide, January 2012
All the conditions were present in making the mining community of Pantukan town on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao vunerable to landslides – steep slopes, rugged land and poor vegetation, the director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Renato Solidum, said following the January 5, 2012 disaster. Twenty-five people were killed when the landslide struck a gold mine site near the town. Following the landslide, a 30-day suspension of all mining operations in the town was ordered.
Tropical Storm Washi, December 2011
One of few storm cells to hit the southern Philippines, tropical storm Washi triggered flash flooding that surged down mountain sides, uprooting trees and swelling rivers - all while residents slept. The storm left 1,080 people dead and destroyed the coastal cities of Cagayande Oro and nearby Iligan, turning them in rubbish dumps filled with overturned cars, debris and animal carcasses. Houses with families sleeping inside were swept into the sea in an area of the Philippines ill-equipped to cope with storms. It took months for power and clean water to be restored again to the region.
Typhoon Fengshen, June 2008
Typhoon Fengshen, also referred to as typhoon “Frank”, created havoc in the Philippines from June 20 to June 23, 2008, killing at least 557 people. It affected more than 99,600 families all over the Philippines, damaging more than 155,500 houses in 10 regions. More casualties occurred from the sinking of the “Princess of the Stars” ferry off the Philippine Coast during the storm. The Philippine's National Disaster Coordination Council (NDCC) placed the damage to agriculture and fisheries at 3.3 billion pesos (57.2 million euros, $ 76.4 million), infrastructure at 750 million pesos (13 million euros, $17.4 million), schools at 212 million pesos (3.7 million euros, $4.9 million), and fishing boats at 110 million pesos (1.9 million euros, $2.5million).
Cyclone Durian, November 2006
On November 25, 2006, an intense tropical cyclone called “Durian” hit the Philippines, blowing away houses, uprooting trees and taking the lives of at least 720 people. Due to heavy rainfall, Legazpi City had to fight widespread flooding while mudslides from the Mayon Volcano buried many villages, causing another 800 to 1,000 casualties. After hitting the Philippines, Durian exited into the South China Sea and hit Vietnam shortly afterwards. All in all, Durian caused the death of almost 2,000 people while hundreds more remained missing. Damages in the Philippines was put at $130 million (97 million euros).
Guinsaugon landslide, February 2006
The village of Guinsaugon, on the southern part of Leyte island, was buried when an entire mountainside collapsed on 17 February, 2006 – 1,126 people were killed in the disaster. A school, along with 500 homes were wiped out when a rapid flow of mud made its way down the mountain slope. The disaster occurred after torrential rains of up to 200 centimeters (78 inches) dumped down on the region within 10 days. Locals blame deforestation, caused by illegal logging, to be a contributing factor in the disaster.
Tropical Depression Winnie, November 2004
Although Winnie is only considered a weak tropical cyclone and is rather referred to as “Tropical Depression,” the storm killed 842 people in the Philippines, while 751 went missing. The damage caused by the storm, which hit the Philippines at the end of November, 2004, has been estimated at 679 million Philippine pesos (11.8 million euros, $ 15.8 million). Only shortly after Winnie devastated the country, the Philippines were struck by an even more powerful tropical cyclone called “Nanmadol” which killed another 70 people.