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  • Typhoon YolandaThe Politics of Disaster Response and Management
  • Lorraine Carlos Salazar (bio)


On 8 November 2013, typhoon Yolanda (internationally referred to as Haiyan), the strongest recorded typhoon ever to make landfall hit central Philippines, with wind speeds of more than 300 km/hour and storm surges of over four metres. Yolanda’s impact was massive. It passed through 171 cities and municipalities in fourteen provinces in the country leading to an estimated 6,300 deaths, over a thousand people missing, around 1.5 million families (around 7.5 million individuals) displaced, and in all affecting 3.4 million families (about 16 million people) and damaging or destroying a million homes.1

Experts opine that in some ways the impact of Yolanda was greater than the Haiti earthquake in terms of shelter damage (affecting about 475,000 people in 95,000 households) or the 2004 tsunami in terms of total number of people affected (about 2.3 million).2 Yolanda’s total economic impact, estimated to reach US$10 billion in damages, was considered one of the top two most destructive disasters in the world during 2013.3

The enormity of the disaster overwhelmed the administration of President Benigno Aquino whose response during the first few days of the crisis was widely criticized. The local governments of most of the affected areas, particularly Tacloban City, which suffered the most devastation, were caught [End Page 277] unaware and took some time to get back on their feet and start organizing relief response. Meanwhile, haunting images broadcast internationally by the global media galvanized an unprecedented international response for relief and aid. However, due to logistical challenges, aid items took time to reach the ground. The Philippine Government, in partnership with national and international humanitarian actors, led the massive efforts to clear the roads, re-establish power systems and provide a range of life-saving humanitarian support to millions of people.4

While progress could be seen and the focus had shifted from relief to recovery and rehabilitation a year after the typhoon, much remained to be done in terms of infrastructure, social services, resettlement and livelihood. In fact as of November 2014, many of the affected still lived in temporary shelters as only about 2,000 of the 205,000 permanent homes needed had been built. Meanwhile, replanting of the 33 million coconut trees could not be done immediately because of the huge task of clearing debris. In short, the level of recovery and reconstruction tasks ahead is enormous.

In this chapter, the effect of Typhoon Yolanda is reviewed by looking at what progress has been achieved so far. In particular, we look at the initial responses to the typhoon by both the national and local governments. We then focus on the Office of the Presidential Adviser of Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR), formed in December 2013 to unify the rehabilitation and recovery efforts. Finally, the chapter examines the outpouring of private and international support for aid and rehabilitation of the affected areas.

The second section looks at how familial politics has hampered the relief and recovery response in Tacloban City due to political animosity between President Benigno Aquino and Tacloban’s Mayor, Alfred Romualdez.

Thirdly, since the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, being located in the Pacific Ring of Fire and facing an average of twenty typhoons annually, the chapter looks at the capabilities of the Philippine state to respond to natural disasters which have been increasing due to global warming and climate change. The chapter further examines how the Philippines legislated a “world class” national disaster risk reduction and management law in 2010. However, the law’s institutionalization and implementation is lacking. Of particular interest is the law’s provisions, the complicated composition of the national disaster body, the role of the local government units and their capabilities to deliver. The chapter argues that an independent, empowered, national disaster management agency is needed to replace the current body. [End Page 278] This section also showcases an example of “pockets of efficiency”5 in the Philippine state, highlighting the best practices to understand what are the key lessons that can be gleaned, from the...