Typhoon claims nearly 4,000 lives in Philippines

By Amanda Spadaro

Science Editor

[email protected]

Nov. 22, 2013


On Nov. 8, 2013, typhoon Haiyan blew through the central and southern Philippines, causing an estimated $5.8 billion dollars worth of damage, according to Reuters. The storm, which hit the peninsular city of Tacloban hardest, has also left an estimated four million people displaced and another 12,000 injured.

As of Nov. 19, the death toll was at 3,982 while another 1,602 people were known to be missing, according to the Philippine government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Despite the current figures, the United Nations has cautioned that officials have yet to reach more remote locations, which may increase the number of known fatalities.

“It is unlikely we’ll ever know the exact total [of deaths],” Steven Rood, country representative for the Philippines with the Asia Foundation, said to NBC News, expressing doubt in even a final and official figure’s accuracy.

Regardless, predictions have reached 10,000 deaths most notably from the International Committee of the Red Cross, while Tacloban official Tecson Lim said that the city alone could have some 4,000 deaths. President Benigno Aquino initially estimated 2,000 to 2,500 dead, a figure that was quickly surpassed, and said that higher figures were simply due to “emotional drama,” according to NBC News.

Because casualty reporting depends on the severity of the disaster as well as centralized governmental agencies, officials have had significant trouble in determining the number of deceased, including transportation through devastated and power-deficient areas.

As of Nov. 19, “Bodies were literally piled in the streets. Even now, a full week after the typhoon struck, authorities are still searching the rubble for the dead so they can bury them in mass graves,” said Adam Dean, a photographer with Time magazine.

While authorities continue the search, they must also battle with the quick burials that some citizens conduct. Because of the misconception that exposed cadavers pose a significant health threat, officials believe that a number of corpses were buried before they could be identified. Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite infection from human remains as “a minor part of the overall contamination,” especially in flood situations where sewage and industrial chemicals can pose a much larger threat.

While the World Health Organization does not encourage the use of mass graves during emergency situations, there is still a humane desire to put the dead to rest, allowing a devastated community to begin the rebuilding and recovering process.

Aside from the loss of human life caused by Haiyan, the sheer amounts of destruction have also led to structural and economic losses, including the leveling of homes, businesses, roads and bridges. In some areas, damage levels are at 90 percent.

The Philippines’ government has deployed almost 25,000 people to administer aid, working with a fleet of over 100 ships and 163 aircrafts from various countries, according to the Guardian. In addition, nearly 90 medical teams have begun working to help the injured and sick, a significant help considering that Tacloban had only one functioning hospital where the injured ended up in crowded hallways. According to CNN, the hospital has also run out of supplies, leaving the doctors helpless to treat the injured.

Bogo, in the central Philippines, has suffered from a blackout that officials say could take up to a month to remedy. Haiyan’s devastation also lead to theft, including people breaking into grocery stores and ATM machines in Tacloban. Residents of the city are currently focused on the daunting task of survival as a projected hundreds of thousands are homeless and dependent on emergency supplies, according to CNN.

As of Nov. 18, Tacloban is able to accept aid flights daily, offering support in the way of food, water and medicine, according to National Public Radio’s Russell Lewis, at least offering some support by way of survival.

Along with survival and rebuilding, Tacloban must face economic challenges created by the destruction. The United States’ Commodity Weather Group suggests that a third of the rice-producing land was among the casualties while the Philippine Department of Finance said that approximately 67,000 hectacres of rice fields were destroyed, already in some of the country’s poorest locations. In addition to rice fields, sugar cane and other cash-crop fields were affected.

“Fishermen have lost their boats. Crops are devastated. This is really the basic income of many people,” said Sandra Bulling, international communications officer for the aid agency CARE, to CNN, suggesting a difficult rebuilding process.

On top of the destruction, commodity speculators have pushed prices up, making acquiring staple foods for the poor Filipinos affected by the storm even more difficult. The Department of Trade and Industry has suggested the speculators may face criminal charges due to the price increases.

“Corruption has been here forever. It’s a matter of minimising it, really,” Department of Finance chief economist Gil Beltran said to Ya Libnan, an international Lebanon-based media outlet.

Risk modelers, like those with AIR Worldwide, have predicted the Philippines’ total economic loss ranging between $6.5 billion and $15 billion dollars.

In light of the wide range of destruction caused by Haiyan, meteorologists are currently analyzing the storm’s power as the typhoon may be the strongest tropical storm recorded. CNN has called Haiyan more than three times more powerful than Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Haiyan’s storm winds reached 190 miles per hour along with water levels that reached up to 20 feet high.

Moving forward for rebuilding efforts, there has been a strong call for international aid both through governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations.

“You have to look at the loss of livelihoods, the devastation of farm areas and the lack of production,” said Asia Development Bank economist Joseph Zveglich to Ya Libnan. During reconstruction, resources are also going to be stretched, and there is only so much internal capacity. There has to be an international response.”

Governmentally, China has donated $1.6 million; the United Kingdom, $16 million along with military crafts; Australia, $9.4 million and the U.S., $37 million.

The World Bank gave the Philippines a $500 million loan, Swedish furniture company Ikea has given $2.7 million, resulting in a total international community has donated an approximate $248 million to the Philippines.

Despite the money needed to rebuild and return the Philippines to its pre-Haiyan state, there are some losses that cannot be replaced or quantified, as Danilo Israel, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Developmental Studies reminds the international community.

“Beyond the estimates of damage and reconstruction, it is important to consider the intangible losses,” said Israel to Ya Libnan. “The loss in human lives, the loss of bio-diversity, the destruction of heritage sites, the loss of relationships — it’s difficult to put a value on these intangibles.”