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DisasterLink Country Profile: The Philippines

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The Philippines at a Glance

Population: 109,774,529
Major Threats: Typhoons, Storms, Floods, Landslides, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions, Drought
Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farmers, Coastal Communities
Locations Affected: All
Industries Affected: Agriculture, Fishing, Manufacturing
Compounding Issues: Urban Migration, Poor Land-use Planning Environmental Degradation, Climate Change
World Risk Index Ranking: 9
Global Climate Risk Index: 17


The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to disaster and climate change. With over 7,000 islands and over 36,000 kilometers of coastline, nearly everyone – 74 percent of the population – and everywhere – 80 percent of the land area – is vulnerable to disaster, with the capital of Manila considered at “extreme risk.”

Typhoons and storms, which make up 58 percent of all disasters in the country, related flooding (25 percent), and landslides (six percent) pose the greatest threats to the country. Storms surpass all other disasters in terms of the number of fatalities, people affected, and economic damage. Though less regular than hydrometeorological disasters, earthquakes (five percent), volcanic eruptions (five percent), and drought (< one percent) can also have devastating effects. Cumulatively, these disasters cause an average of over 1,000 deaths per year.

The Philippines Government, INGOs, and local NGOs are all attempting to address climate change and disasters at various levels. However, many of the resources put aside for this purpose are re-directed to emergency response when disasters strike, such as Typhoon Yolanda (known as Haiyan internationally) in Nov. 2013 and the flash floods caused by Typhoon Sendong (Washi internationally) in Mindanao in Dec. 2011.

Attempts to defend the nation against disasters are complicated by social forces, such as high poverty, urbanization in coastal regions, and environmental destruction, including illegal mining and logging. However, spurred by the nearly existential threat to the country from disasters, many expert groups have successfully implemented various disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs in the Philippines at the community level.

Major Threats and Economy

The Filipino population and economy are growing rapidly, especially in urban centers, where over 65 percent of the country lives, 45 percent of it in poverty. While the urbanization policy has been good for economic growth, it has also increased the vulnerability of its 25 largest cities, most of them on riverbanks and coastlines. Urban vulnerability is made worse by poor housing conditions and the low adaptive capacity of the urban poor.

As stated by Antonia Loyzaga of the Manila Observatory, “the Philippines is an archipelagic country with a declared government policy that supports the urbanization of coastal cities to spur economic growth. Hyper-concentrating people and economic resources in coastal areas – without investing in the institutional capacity to build a shared understanding of the science of integrated risks from climate change and geological hazards – is a recipe for disaster.”

Outside of the cities, the farmers and fishermen are most affected by natural disasters. With one-third of the population working in agriculture, natural disasters also threaten food security and major sources of livelihood.

Droughts, floods, and cyclones affect the agricultural sector, farmers’ livelihoods, and fishermen. Frequent storms increase the salinity level of irrigated land, leaving it unfit for agriculture, while warmer ocean water damages coral reefs, the feeding grounds for many species relied upon by local fishermen.

Environmental degradation, including logging, and mining, also exposes communities to higher risks. Specifically, these factors contributed directly to the devastating flash floods that struck Mindanao in 2011.

Climate Change Impacts

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Rising sea levels are a direct threat to approximately 70 percent of the 1,500 municipalities in the Philippines, many of which may need to relocate. Climate change has also increased the frequency and severity of natural disasters.

Studies and climate change simulations show that rainfall will increase in intensity during the wet season in the Central Visayas and Southern Tagalog provinces. The country is also expected to experience longer dry seasons, exacerbated by El Nino Southern Oscillation in Mindanao.

Hydrometeorological Vulnerability

Typhoons, Floods & Landslides

For the last five years, the Philippines has been in the top three countries regarding the number of natural disasters, with the most frequent being storms and floods. Storms surpass all disasters in the country in terms of the highest number of fatalities, people affected, and economic damage. Furthermore, the strong winds and heavy rainfall accompanying typhoons often lead to flooding or landslides.

Most typhoons originate from the Southeast and travel north, increasing in speed and intensity as they approach the Philippines. Luzon, Samar, Leyte, Eastern Quezon Province and the Batanese Islands are most prone to typhoons.

From 1983 to 2012, 24,281 people were killed by storms, with another 99.6 million people affected. Economic losses for the country have totaled $5.9 billion. Typhoon Yolanda in late 2013 increased these totals by between 15 and 25 percent. Floods and landslides commonly occur as secondary hazards induced by typhoons and monsoons. The Philippines has a mountainous terrain with a sharp drop to coastal areas, exposing communities in low-lying areas to high risk.


Instances of drought are infrequent, typically happening due to El Nino. However, they can cause extensive damage to the population and its agriculture when they do occur. Lack of water resources has a trickle-down effect on the manufacturing sector, leading to lower economic production.

Geophysical Vulnerability

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the location of 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes, the Philippines has experienced numerous high magnitude seismic events. The country also has 22 active volcanoes. Both occurrences are rare but highly destructive. In 2004, the Philippine government, combined with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, studied the Valley Fault, which runs through Metro Manila and its environs, to identify vulnerable areas according to flammability, evacuation difficulty, and building collapse.

Adaptation and Local Context

In addition to local NGOs, other local actors are involved in DRR and response efforts. Many interviewees described immediate local responses to natural disasters coming predominantly from family members and faith groups. As coordinated response to major disasters has been weak in the past, these groups have played a significant role in filtering immediate aid to affected populations.

Faith groups often have the facilities and networks to distribute aid on time. Interviewees also cited that although these groups have been quick on first response relief efforts in the past, they lack the technical capacity and knowledge of DRR to engage in activities beyond the first response. Faith groups have played an essential role in filling the gaps in the system and working to meet the needs of their communities. They are often seen supporting community-led livelihoods, education, health, and other activities projects.

Many local NGOs also operate activities with a focus in fields such as livelihoods, health, environment, or social work that contribute to the efforts of DRR, but they do not use the term DRR. In addition to the NGOs included in this report, communities around the country will be home to locally developed projects covering a broad range of fields. Some localized activities that could be classified as DRR are included. Many national NGOs tap into these networks when they conduct DRR work in local communities.


From 1991 to 2010, the Philippines was one of the top five recipients of disaster risk reduction grants from the international community, with $834.6 million in grants, primarily from Japan. It is estimated that of that funding, over $500 million was spent on emergency response and not on preparation or resiliency programs.

The World Bank reported that a lack of coordination and insufficient scope of roles and responsibilities had hindered disaster management across agencies and sectors in the Philippines. One example is in building codes and land-use management. While the government has passed laws and policies for these purposes, the regulations are not heavily enforced. Much private development and many informal settlements continue to violate building standards to save on costs.

Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors

Donors have the opportunity to support activities to engage communities in mitigating the impact of cyclones.

Other opportunities for donors include:

  • Identification or construction of safe shelters (religious buildings and monuments in communities often can serve this purpose)
  • Community education for storm-resistant housing
  • Ensuring residential areas are situated a safe distance from the waterfront
  • Community cyclone awareness training
  • Volunteers should be trained in disaster management
  • Flood forecasting and warning systems
  • Supporting research that identifies climate change influences on flooding and appropriate responses.
  • Improving watershed drainage systems and management
  • Strengthening infrastructure in rural and mountainous areas
  • Building the capacity of landslide warning systems.

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