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The Philippines 2020: When Natural Disasters and COVID-19 Collide

Forested mountains against the background of a stormy sky. Towels hang to dry in the foreground on a rooftop.

The Philippines experiences an average of 20 annual tropical storms, so the island nation is no stranger to effective evacuation and recovery in the wake of natural disasters. However, although there is no good time to face this kind of destruction 2020 adds a new level of threat as hundreds of thousands are displaced and congregate in evacuation centers and with family. 

Since October 25th, three tropical storms have made landfall on the main island of Luzon. The second of which, Typhoon Goni aka “Rolly”, struck the island four times before redirecting toward the South China Sea where it has continued to weaken. It hit in the wake of Molave, exactly a week after Goni on the first of November, and has been declared the strongest tropical storm to make landfall on record by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and the National Hurricane Center. Shortly after on November 11th, Typhoon Vamco hit, once again striking the main island of Luzon and surrounding areas. Goni is the worst tropical storm to strike the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 in 2013 and is the 18th to strike this year.

Together, the typhoons resulted in over 70 confirmed deaths with several more presumed missing. Numbers are expected to rise as recovery efforts continue and reports come in. Early warning systems placed throughout the region thankfully allowed for mass evacuation and crop storage. Preceding Goni, nearly 400,000 evacuated with around 350,000 people taking shelter in evacuation centers or in temporary roadside camps throughout the country. Others stayed with family outside of the storm’s predicted path. 

Though the Philippine government shut down ports and air travel preceding the storms, travel within the country is still a major concern. Those fleeing the storms’ paths will be displaced for an unknown length of time. Secondary damage in the form of mudslides, lava flow, and severe flooding have worsened existing conditions in affected areas in and around the main island. Blocked roadways, widespread power outages, and otherwise impeded travel make for slow progress as relief efforts spread throughout the region while those out of harm’s way battle Covid-19 concerns. President Rodrigo Duterte declared the main island to be under “state of calamity” in an effort to support relief and recovery efforts, but many local governments have stated their funds have been severely depleted by the pandemic. PPE, necessities, and recovery equipment continue to make their way to areas of need despite strained resources.

Covid-19 has caused around 400,000 confirmed infections and over 7,000 deaths in the Philippines as of mid-November, and patients in the areas impacted by the storms have been relocated to continue treatment in isolation. 

On November 6th, the U.S. Agency for International Development issued a release detailing the actions the department is taking to assist the impacted region, stating:

The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing $200,000 in emergency assistance to support the efforts of the Government of the Republic of The Philippines to respond to Super Typhoon Goni, known locally as Rolly, the strongest storm to hit the islands since Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) in 2013.
With this assistance, the United States is funding a humanitarian partner on the ground in hard-hit Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, and Albay Provinces to provide food, emergency shelter, and other immediate assistance to help affected families meet their urgent needs. USAID has assigned a team of disaster experts based in Manila and USAID’s Regional Mission in Bangkok, Thailand, to coordinate the U.S. Government’s support to the response.

Want to contribute to the cause? The U.N. World Food Programme, The Red Cross, and ShelterBox USA are some great organizations actively responding as the situation unfolds. 

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