New Storm Threatens Philippines, the World's Most Disaster-Prone Country

Is the Philippines about to be hit by another massive storm? It’s been nearly 13 months since Super Typhoon Haiyan caused more than $13 billion in damage and killed more than 6,000 people. The country, still recovering from that disaster, is now readying for a new typhoon that could strengthen into a superstorm—and strike the same place hit the worst by Haiyan. Last year’s typhoon devastated the eastern part of Visasyas, a region south of Luzon, and now Typhoon Hagupit, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ruby, could make landfall there this weekend, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration warns on its website.

The storm has maximum winds of 140 kilometers per hour, but it could intensify to sustained winds of 175, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer today. Forecasters outside the country are warning that the storm could get much worse. The U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center is expecting winds as high as 130 knots, or 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) and gusts as high as 160 knots, just shy of 300 kph. The storm won’t be as bad as Haiyan, but it “still has the chance of becoming a super typhoon,” the Weather Channel’s Ari Sarsalari said yesterday.

Because of storms like these, the Philippines has the unfortunate honor of topping the ranking of countries suffering from extreme weather, according to a new report published yesterday by German think tank Germanwatch. The NGO reports that countries typically fall into two categories: countries high in the rankings because they are regularly hit by extreme events, and countries hit by “exceptional catastrophes” that cause their ranking to soar. For instance, India was No. 3 in Germanwatch’s 2013 ranking because of Cyclone Phailin. One of the worst storms ever to hit the country, Phailin destroyed $4 billion worth of crops. Cambodia was No. 2 due to flooding accompanying a monsoon that was much wetter than normal.

Unfortunately for the Philippines, the country fits both categories, since it not only gets lots of bad storms, it also suffers from unusually fierce weather events that may become more common with global climate change. “As a country that is struck by eight to nine typhoons per year and the victim of exceptional catastrophes, namely Typhoon Haiyan,” the authors write, “the Philippines suggest that a new and remarkable classification of countries that fit both moulds may be emerging.”

So, while Haiyan’s destruction made the Philippines No. 1 on Germanwatch’s Top 10 list for 2013, even without the superstorm, the country is always in danger. In 2012, for instance, the Philippines was No. 2 in the Germanwatch ranking.

Even before Typhoon Haiyan, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was warning that the economic impact of such disasters as floods, earthquakes, and droughts are at least 50 percent worse than we had thought. Such losses “are out of control,” he said in May 2013, seven months before Haiyan.