Nov 14, 2013

Worse than hell

Philippines
by
The Economist
Residents gather amongst the devastation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on November 13 in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, packing maximum sustained winds of 195 mph (315 kph), slammed into the southern Philippines and left a trail of destruction in multiple provinces, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate and making travel by air and land to hard-hit provinces difficult. Photo: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Residents gather amongst the devastation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on November 13 in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, packing maximum sustained winds of 195 mph (315 kph), slammed into the southern Philippines and left a trail of destruction in multiple provinces, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate and making travel by air and land to hard-hit provinces difficult. Photo: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images

LONG accustomed to fearsome storms, floods and earthquakes, Filipinos are usually stoical in the face of natural disasters. Yet the sheer magnitude of the super-typhoon that ripped through the middle of the archipelago on November 8th was unprecedented, with sustained winds of 250 kilometres per hour (160mph). The scale of the damage left in its wake was shocking. President Benigno Aquino declared the devastation a “national calamity”.

Some towns hit by the storm may never wholly recover. For now, questions are being asked about whether the country could have been better prepared, as well as what might be done to mitigate the impact of severe storms that whip in—recently, with greater frequency—off the Pacific Ocean. Many Filipinos note that this storm hit just as the latest round of UN-sponsored climate-change talks was getting under way in Warsaw in Poland. Their government insists that man-made climate change is heightening the risk of typhoons, but scientists are not so sure (see article).

Some of the regions hit by Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it was called in the Philippines, are remote. Almost a week after it struck, a proper assessment of the damage is still being pieced together. The government says that more than 2,300 people have been killed. The figure will rise as more bodies are recovered in the worst-hit places, such as Tacloban on the island of Leyte. The government says about 7m people were affected by Haiyan; the UN says as many as 11m. About 600,000 have been made homeless.

Early estimates of the economic cost are about $15 billion. This relatively low figure reflects the fact that Haiyan laid waste to some of the poorest regions of the country. Their backwardness also helps account for the slowness of the rescue effort in many places. Roads and airports were hardly first-class before; now Haiyan has destroyed much of the infrastructure.