Howling winds. Powerful rains. Flying iron sheets. Falling plant boxes. No electricity.

These were my experiences on Wednesday night, when Typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: “Vamco”) made landfall in Luzon. The last time I had a similar experience was when Typhoon “Yolanda,” one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, battered the Visayas seven years ago. A few days ago, we observed the seventh anniversary of the devastation it wreaked. Yolanda is forever etched in our hearts and minds. We lost over 6,300 lives and total damages were estimated at P95.48 billion.

In the last 30 days, according to the data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, from typhoons “Pepito” and “Ofel” to “Quinta” and “Rolly,” over 3 million Filipinos were affected with estimated 52 deaths and delivered over P22 billion in damages to infrastructure and crops.

“I had a very traumatic experience,” said Ian Capistrano, a public school teacher in Camarines Sur. Capistrano said that in terms of livelihood, especially to farmers and fisherfolks, Ulysses delivered more damage than Rolly. However, there was more damage in our area due to Rolly, he added.

‘The Human Cost of Disasters’

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Celsius released in October 2018, reported that climate model projects increases in mean temperature in most land and ocean regions, hot extremes in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitation in several regions, and the probability of drought in some regions.

According to the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), one of the most comprehensive disaster databases available worldwide and maintained by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), for an event to be called a disaster at least one of these criteria — 10 or more people reported killed, 100 or more people reported affected, declaration of a state of emergency or call for international assistance — must be met.

The Human Cost of Disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019), a publication of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction released during the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction last month, revealed how extreme weather events dominated the disaster landscape for the past two decades.

During the last two decades, 7,348 disaster events were recorded claiming approximately 1.23 million lives, an average of 60,000 annually; affected over 4 billion people globally; and led to approximately $2.97 trillion in economic losses worldwide.

The data on reported disaster events for the last 20 years increased by three-fourths compared to the 4,212 reported disasters in the preceding 20 years (1980-1999). During this period, approximately 1.19 million lives were lost and affected 3.25 billion people, resulting in approximately $1.63 trillion in economic losses.

In reporting the key highlights, Prof. Debarati Guha-Sapir of the University of Louvain School of Public Health and director of CRED, said that climate-related events, such as floods, droughts and storms, made up the bulk of disaster impacts.

Ninety-one percent of disasters from 2000 to 2019, totaling 6,681, were climate-related ones, an increase of 80 percent from 3,656 disasters in 1980 to 1999. And the number of major floods increased more than twice to 3,254 in 2000 to 2019 from1,389 in 1980 to 1999.

Sapir said these climate-related events accounted for approximately 95 percent — 3.9 billion people — of the people affected by disasters. Additionally, these climate-related events were responsible for 74 percent — approximately $2.2 trillion — of economic losses.

In the same report, the Philippines has been identified as one of the top ten countries that experienced a wide variety of disaster events — geophysical, hydrological, meteorological and climatological — for the past two decades. Next only to China, the United States and India, the Philippines ranked fourth that recorded over 300 disaster events, mostly hydrological and meteorological events. Completing the top ten are Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Furthermore, in terms of impacts of disaster events, China and India dominated the list with 1.729 million and 1.083 million people affected, respectively. These two countries account for over 2.8 billion affected people from 2000 to 2019, approximately 70 percent of the global total. A far third, around 149 million people from the Philippines were affected over the last two decades.

Action points

There are action points culled from the report that can be considered by our national and local government leaders and policymakers, including nongovernment organizations, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders. These are:

– There should be focused studies on disaster risk communication that help understand how residents interpret warnings that in a way would aid in steering communication strategies in the most effective forms.

– Flood control systems should be improved since affordable and effective technologies are already available. Furthermore, flood control should be regarded as a development issue and humanitarian concern considering the serious health and socio-economic impacts of flooding.

– There are numerous proven life-saving measures for storm impacts, such as cyclone shelters, wind-resistant buildings, and preservation of protective ecosystems such as mangrove forests and coral reefs. Also, effective deployment of early warning systems supported by increasingly accurate weather forecasts, have the potential to protect vulnerable populations and save thousands of lives.

– Priority to strengthen the resilience of drought-vulnerable areas including better accounting and reporting mechanisms for indirect deaths from drought.

– With the adoption of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, standardized methodologies are needed to collect comprehensive national data on deaths from all-natural hazards.

– Better data collection would improve our understanding of disaster impacts and improve analyses that would help decision-makers prioritize and target new measures more effectively.

– The reporting of economic losses should be improved and priority should also be given to existing methodologies to estimate losses and the development of standard operational methods.

The author is the executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and a nonresident fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his climate change and development course at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) and an executive program on sustainability leadership at Yale University (USA).You can reach him at [email protected]