Why does the Philippines have so many disasters?

 

Geography has not been kind to the Philippines. With six to nine typhoons making landfall every year, almost 900 earthquakes annually — including the one that hit the island of Bohol, killing more than 200 people just last month — and more than 20 active volcanoes, it gets more than its share of natural disasters.

Disasters in the Philippines are also particularly deadly. Just two years ago, Tropical Storm Washi killed over 1,000 people. The country led the world in disaster mortality in 2012 with more than 2,000 people killed. China was second with just 802. The high rate of poverty and the state of the country’s infrastructure also make it particularly vulnerable to the kind of devastation we’re seeing this week.

While the Philippines has earned global attention for its rapid economic growth in recent years, it remains a very poor country with around 40 percent of the population living on under $2 per day. The country’s unemployment rate is high and around a third of its workers are in agriculture, making them particularly vulnerable to severe weather.

A 2005 World Bank report discussed why poverty has exacerbated the Phillipines’ frequent disasters, writing, “Rapid urban growth and lack of tenure, for instance, have forced many to live and work in high-risk areas, such as on the shores of Navotas or flanks of active volcanoes. Families may have little choice but to return to such areas post disaster even when resettlement options are available because of the importance of proximity to place of work.”

The country’s chronic infrastructure problems are another concern. Damaged roads are hampering the relief effort in this disaster as they did after last month’s earthquake. Only 20 percent of the country’s roads are paved and the World Economic Forum has identified “inadequate supply of infrastructure” as one of the primary obstacles for the country’s economic growth.

Current President Benigno Aquino has made infrastructure development a priority since coming into office in 2010. The government increased spending by 47 percent on the country’s roads, airports, and public works in the first eight months of this year. The Philippines has also invested heavily to improve flood-resistant construction.

Unfortunately, the relationship between natural disasters and poor infrastructure is mutually reinforcing. The Bohol earthquake caused more than $51 million in damage, largely to roads, flood control facilities and bridges, exactly the kind of construction that makes future disasters more severe.

The World Bank report noted that “Disasters can also contribute to longer-term states of poverty by delaying development of poorer areas. (An) initial poverty mapping exercise of the Philippines reports that the results from the rapid appraisal demonstrate the importance of road conditions and distances to ‘centers of trade’ as a determinant of poverty. Yet disasters destroy roads and many, particularly feeder roads, may not be repaired for several years after a disaster.”

In a cruel cycle, poverty and underdevelopment make disasters worse, and disasters make poverty and underdevelopment worse.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

© 2013, Slate

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Don’t let Jeb Bush’s moderation confuse you

    Jeb Bush’s recent compassionate comments on immigration show how far apart he is from the far right of the Republican Party.

  • The vibrancy of today’s American literature

    Sales at American book stores rose a measly 1 percent in 2013, according to trade accounts. It remains unclear whether that sluggishness — sales of ebooks have also tapered off — truly represents a further chipping away of the importance of books in our culture.

  • Kansas, the KKK and hate without end

    The news that a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan is suspected of shooting and killing three people near Jewish community centers in Kansas seems at first glance like a disparaged past flaring briefly into the present. Americans like to imagine that the KKK belongs to a long-gone South and anti-Semitism to a distant 20th century. Sadly, this better reflects a naive faith in the nation’s history of religious tolerance than the realities experienced by many religious minorities. Although the KKK has evolved and its membership has dwindled, it remains part of an American legacy of religious intolerance.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category