Five things you need to know about the response to Typhoon Rai in the Philippines
On 16 December 2021, Super Typhoon Rai swept across 11 of the Philippines’ 17 regions, claiming over 400 lives and affecting almost 10 million people in the country. One month on, hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced and in need of assistance. Humanitarian responders on the ground are just beginning to comprehend the full scale of the disaster and draw some initial lessons. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Typhoon Rai was as devastating as Typhoon Haiyan
Typhoon Rai (locally known as Odette) was one of the biggest storms we experienced in the past decade. While the Philippines has faced deadly typhoons in recent years, such as Goni (Rolly) and Vamco (Ulysses) in 2020 or Kammuri (Tisoy) in 2019, Typhoon Rai can only be compared to the devastating Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) of 2013. Both made landfalls in multiple provinces and crossed the sea multiple times, allowing them to maintain their relative strength as they traversed the country.
Even though Rai wasn’t as powerful as Haiyan, the typhoon damaged houses, infrastructure and livelihoods on a comparable scale.
The latest Humanitarian Needs and Priorities revision estimates that 1.7 million houses have been damaged, out of which 415,000 were totally destroyed. As the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has pointed out, Rai struck the Philippines at a time when its people were already coping with increased poverty and unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, the Typhoon severely affected an estimated 9.9 million people across the six worst hit regions, leaving about 2.4 million people in need of assistance.
However, Typhoon Rai caused significantly fewer casualties: 409 lost their lives, against more than 6,300 in the case of Typhoon Haiyan. This is thanks to pre-emptive evacuation measures taken by local government units and community partners ahead of the storm. Over 800,000 people were evacuated to 2,861 dedicated centres ahead of the Rai’s landfall.
Preparedness is key
Given the Philippines’ location on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” and along the Pacific typhoon belt, increasing protection against natural hazards and the impacts of climate change has long been recognized as a national priority. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (DRRM Act) enacted in 2010 established a multi-sectoral disaster risk reduction and management system which emphasized the shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness. The DRRM Act also mandates the creation of disaster risk reduction and management offices at the provincial, city, and municipal levels. The devastating impacts of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 have spurred further action, and humanitarian actors in the Philippines have worked diligently to improve their response capacities, including through the strong engagement of civil society organizations and the private sector.
Since our establishment after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) has become an important partner of the national government and the United Nations when it comes to promoting a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk reduction and management. We are a founding member of the OCHA and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-led Connecting Business initiative, and have become the Philippines’s primary coordinator and convenor for private sector initiatives in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Launched by the country’s top business leaders, PDRF engages with multinational and national companies and national and local chambers of commerce and industry associations to coordinate the business community’s activities before, during and after disasters. We work with national and local governments and we support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) when it comes to business continuity planning and livelihood recovery. We have set up the country’s first-ever business-led Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that acts as an information and coordination hub to facilitate efficient and effective preparedness and response activities of the business community.
An effective response relies on how much we invest in preparedness. PDRF focuses on disaster management awareness and capacity-building through training programmes on emergency and family preparedness, business continuity planning and EOC management. The PDRF EOC runs simulation exercises with member companies, government agencies, the UN and non-government organizations to prepare for different disaster scenarios.
The Philippine Red Cross is a similarly essential part of the humanitarian community in the Philippines and invests in preparedness efforts that support local community planning and execution of preparedness activities, including risk analysis, formation of barangay (local district) committees, orientation and training of local Philippine Red Cross chapter volunteers, provision of First Aid training, pre-positioning of relief items and establishment of relationships with local suppliers, and community simulation exercises to practice new skills and build active relationships to engage diverse stakeholders within local communities. This community preparedness prioritizes identification of vulnerable families and helping families and local businesses take their own preparatory actions for early harvesting, livestock evacuation, and relocation of vulnerable businesses.
Engaging the private sector helps strengthen the humanitarian response
Through their capacity to quickly mobilize resources on the ground, local businesses play a key role in making the humanitarian response more efficient, cost-effective, and better adapted to people’s needs.
The Philippines might be one of the best examples of how private sector coordination can help make a difference when working hand-in-hand with the humanitarian community. PDRF, which represents more than 60 major companies, is an observer on the UN Humanitarian Country Team and acts as overall private sector coordinator. Our partnership with the Connecting Business initiative (CBi) helps us reinforce our collaboration with the UN system and provide peer-to-peer guidance to other private sector networks all around the world.
Within hours after Typhoon Rai made landfall in the Philippines, PDRF mobilized member companies on the ground to:
- Distribute drinking water through local companies with bottling plants in affected areas, minimizing delays and transportation costs.
- Support debris clearing through construction companies.
- Restore critical infrastructure such as power and communication lines with utility industries.
- Transport critical goods and humanitarian staff to affected areas through partnerships with airlines and shipping and logistics companies.
In total, PDRF transported more than 200 tons of goods, provided over 96,000 ready-to-eat meals and collected over US$400,000 in cash donations.
At a time when global humanitarian needs have hit a new record high, the contributions of the private sector through financial and in-kind contributions and operational support has become essential.
Piloting Anticipatory Action could further improve the response efficiency
In the Philippines, as elsewhere in the world, most natural hazards can be predicted. In fact, about 20% of crises are highly predictable. Yet for every US$10 spent on humanitarian relief, only US$1 is spent on reducing and managing risks. In recent years, humanitarian organizations have taken steps to act ahead of disasters, investing in early action to prevent its worst impacts, notably through anticipatory action.
The Philippine Red Cross and partners have been working since 2017 to develop Early Action Protocols (EAPs) for floods and cyclones. They have made significant headway in integrating early action with local and provincial disaster management structures, either by complementing the efforts of the Philippine Red Cross during an activation, or through the allocation of funds for early actions.
Based on growing evidence about the cost-effectiveness of forecast-based financing, OCHA facilitated the setup of a scaled up pilot for anticipatory action, with funding support from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), investing up to US$ 140 million in 12 pilot countries. In 2021-2022, the Philippines has been selected as a pilot for the implementation of Anticipatory Action, building on the existing experience of numerous organizations on the ground. The pilot project involves partners such as UN agencies, the Start Network, IFRC, PDRF, and a variety of NGOs active in the Philippines.
This mechanism made available US$7.5 million for possible activation of the Anticipatory Action framework to cover initial needs among up to 54,100 households (270,500 people). The framework outlined a variety of early actions to be undertaken by diverse public, private sector, and civil society stakeholders in the Philippines and a trigger mechanism to release CERF funding in advance of typhoon landfall and the onset of storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. To guide planning by local chapters and partners, the Philippine Red Cross developed a Philippines Early Action Protocol for Floods (pocket version).
The pilot anticipatory action mechanism covered the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions, mostly to the north of the Typhoon Rai path, and did not officially trigger (partly as a matter of geography and partly due to the fact that Typhoon Rai increased significantly in intensity just prior to landfall). However, some organizations nonetheless activated anticipatory programming, including . Oxfam which activated its pre-disaster digital cash transfer in some areas three days before Typhoon Rai's landfall.
The anticipatory action protections offered in the pilot project demonstrate the value and need for wider coverage and commitment to anticipatory action mechanisms. Such mechanisms could be scaled up to include both wider geographic coverage and expanded preparatory actions that can be undertaken by diverse stakeholders in at-risk communities. For example, with the support of CBi, PDRF is planning to develop triggers for anticipatory action focusing on MSMEs, to help businesses continue their operations after disasters, thereby minimizing losses, providing essential services, and supporting a more sustainable recovery.
Integrating climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management
According to the World Risk Report 2021, the Philippines is among the top ten countries with the highest disaster risk in the world, particularly in terms of exposure and vulnerability. The impacts of climate change will lead to extreme weather events becoming even more frequent and severe.
The humanitarian system is making efforts to integrate transformative climate action in humanitarian settings so that it effectively and efficiently fulfills its mandate in a changing climate. But more needs to be done, so that increased funding is allocated for adaptation efforts in vulnerable countries and humanitarian action can become an essential part of global climate-adaptation efforts.
Like many countries highly exposed and vulnerable to disaster risks, the Philippines integrates climate change adaptation practices with disaster risk reduction and management. Mainstreaming these practices into national and local development and land-use plans is mentioned in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework. But while this facilitates better appreciation of the relationship between disaster risk reduction/management and climate change adaptation, challenges remain when it comes to implementation.
Last November in Glasgow at COP26, civil society actors called for increased adaptation funding and more equitable access to climate finance. Local businesses urged the international community for a massive scale-up in climate finance, with dedicated funding to local businesses engaged in climate resilience. As Glen Craig, chairman of the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (another CBi Member) recently argued, “Taking an innovative, proactive, whole-of-society approach towards climate resilience isn’t just an ideal. It’s what we have to do for companies to stay in business, and for our country’s survival.” Given the private sector’s critical role as a partner in building resilience, supporting access to adaptation funding and climate finance for the private sector and factoring climate change and adaptation into business decision-making is now more important than ever.
Dealing with recurring disasters in the Philippines has taught us the importance of collective action, involving civil society actors and the private sector together with the Government and international partners. We believe that together, we can continue to build a resilient Philippines and hopefully inspire other countries, through our shared experience, to invest more in early action, better preparedness and response, and resilient recovery.