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Moment that mattered: Typhoon Hagupit sweeps across the Philippines

A resident wades in floodwaters bought by Typhoon Hagupit in Camarines Sur province, eastern Philippines Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. Residents begin trickling back to their homes after the local government said the typhoon has passed their province. Typhoon Hagupit weakened Monday, a day after it sent more than a million others into shelters, sparing the central Philippines the massive devastation that a monster storm brought to the region last year. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Hagupit was a category five typhoon a couple of days before it actually hit, just like Haiyan had been in 2013 when it killed more than 6,000 people. There was a general awareness of the typhoon in the country, everybody was watching it move in. We were all trying to work out where it would make landfall, and what strength it would be.

That’s a change – the Philippines suffers typhoons quite frequently, and before Haiyan struck a lot of people had just thought ‘here we go again’. It was underestimated in terms of the damage it caused, and the risk of a storm surge. When it came to Hagupit, the anxiety was much higher. It was predicted to take the same path as Haiyan. In that affected area not everybody is back in stable accommodation yet – some people are still in tents and shelters one year on.

Thankfully far fewer lives were lost from Hagupit than Haiyan. This time round people weren’t waiting for a call for evacuation – they knew where the centres were and they were moving before the typhoon arrived. The government had made sure that the evacuation centres were open and didn’t face any risks from a possible storm surge and a million of them took shelter there. They also had medical teams deployed and food aid ready to go.

“While preventing loss of lives is our top priority, for us it’s also about livelihoods – making sure that people can go back to work quickly”

The Philippines suffers earthquakes, volcano eruptions, landslides, typhoons – everything. We know that storms are going to happen more and more often in the country. While preventing loss of lives is our top priority, for us it’s also about livelihoods – making sure that people can go back to work quickly. Unfortunately we did see quite a lot of people who had their means of income damaged due to Hagupit. We saw shops and businesses that had lost rooves and the flooding hit irrigation canals and farming land. Another thing we focus on is water and sanitation, to make sure there is no second disaster like a cholera outbreak.

We need to make sure people have a clear knowledge of the risks of typhoons, so that they invest in their land and property in a different way. People who have more money in their pockets can generally cope and recover better from these things, so disaster prevention is also about addressing poverty and its causes. There are people here who are still living on a dollar a day and this shouldn’t be happening.

I think the aid community is getting better at making the case for disaster avoidance rather than relief, but it’s a more difficult narrative. When it’s on our TV screens and when it’s known that people’s lives are at risk, as with Haiyan, it’s easier to get support. We like to put the emphasis on what happens before, but there are so many competing causes and people think natural disasters are a bit like a lottery – totally random. You also can’t see the return on your investment if you prepare for a disaster well, which is frustrating and makes it less obvious where your money has been spent.

But it’s important that aid organisations continue to learn how to raise funds for prevention. The solution to a typhoon is not in what happens in the days before and after, but what happens in the years before, and how you use the years after to make everyone better off next time one comes around.


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