The Philippines’ location on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” and along the Pacific typhoon belt mean that the country experiences many forms of natural disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and fires.
The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 spurred the Philippines to further develop its disaster management structures and resources by improving communication and institutionalizing roles and responsibilities for national and international players. Thus, more recent floods, typhoons, and landslides have seen improved communication and coordination that mitigated impacts on lives and livelihoods.
Such mitigation is crucial to the Philippines’ economic and social recovery in the wake of the Coronavirus Disease – 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the Philippines boasted one of the region’s most dynamic economies. It was driven by consumer demand, a strong labor market, and remittances from overseas, all supported by the trends of a growing middle class, increasing urbanization, and demographics. The Philippines sustained an average annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 4.5% during 2000-2009, and this rate increased to an average of 6.4% during 2010-2019. The country was on a trajectory toward upper middle-income status, but the economic setback of the pandemic likely means the country will maintain a lower middle-income classification. The pandemic and community quarantine measures have led to declines across consumption, investment, exports, tourism, and remittances, and the consequences are likely to be long-lasting, particularly for the 16.6% of people who were in poverty before the pandemic. In addition to poverty and the knock-on effects of the pandemic, the country’s people are already confronting climate change impacts, including sea level rise, increased frequency of extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and heavy rainfall. In part, this is due to the archipelago’s vulnerability to natural hazards and concentrations of settlements in coastal areas, but it is also linked to reliance on climate sensitive natural resources. Sea levels around the Philippines are rising faster than the global average, posing a greater risk of higher storm surges, which are expected to affect 14% of the population and 42% of coastal residents.
Informal settlements, which comprise 45% of the urban population, are particularly at risk due to precarious infrastructure and will be vulnerable to negative impacts due to limited access to clean water and a lack of health care access.
As a result of both natural hazards and climate change, society has developed strategies and mitigation mechanisms that have buy-in at the highest levels of national government. Until recently, the country had focused on disaster management policy, but the past decade has seen greater integration of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation into the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework. The Philippine Congress enacted the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act in 2010 to establish a multilevel disaster risk management system. Moreover, the Philippine Government is putting significant thought into developing resilient infrastructure to allow communities to recover swiftly. Finally, investing in green infrastructure is a priority as the government seeks to meet climate commitments.
All the preparedness in the world will not stop disasters from striking, and in major natural disasters, the Philippines may accept international assistance. The country has developed structures and institutions to screen and expedite entry of international humanitarian teams, equipment, and donations. Coordination includes not only national, provincial, and local government civilians, but also the armed forces and police as well as international agencies. Finally, the U.S. government and armed forces have historically been involved in disaster response in the Philippines and, via the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), they have been able to advance relations on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).