Did Super Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) Expose the Philippines as a Vulnerable Country to Disasters?

The Center for Research and Epidemiology Disasters (CRED) ranked the Philippines as one of most disaster-prone countries in the world. The Philippines is also fourth in the world among countries hit by the highest number of disasters over the past 20 years, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). In terms of tropical storms, the country is visited by an average of twenty typhoons per year, being situated in the West Pacific Basin (NDRRC Report, 2011).


In the Philippines, 70 percent of the country’s disasters are due to hydro-meteorological phenomena such as typhoon and flooding and the poor are often the most vulnerable disaster victims. Social vulnerability in a population is not evenly distributed. Some regions are more susceptible to the impacts of hazards than other places based on the characteristics of the people residing within them (Cutter and Emrich, 2006, p. 102).


Typhoon Ketsana, popularly known in the country as Typhoon Ondoy, is one of the most devastating typhoons that hit the Philippines in 2009 that revealed the differential vulnerabilities of the Philippine population. Its impacts largely depend on the physical attributes of the place and the social characteristics of people residing in it. Some areas suffered devastating losses in life and property compared to other places. Countries such as the Philippines with limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable empowerment and access to resources have little capacity to adapt and are highly vulnerable (Penalba, Elazegui, Pulhin & Cruz, 2012, p.310).


The urban poor who are totally dependent on social services and usually less able to respond effectively to disasters suffer most during disasters (Cutter, Boruff, and Shirley 2003; Morrow 1999; See & Porio, 2015). And being socially and economically marginalized in society, the poor are usually mostly ignored during disaster recovery (Morrow, 1999; Tobin and Ollenberger, 1993). The people who were severely affected by Ketsana in the Philippines were urban poor residing in makeshift shanties in low-lying areas or near creeks and rivers.


Typhoon Ketsana did not only expose the differential vulnerabilities of the Philippines. It also revealed the inadequacy of the country’s disaster management law in dealing with post-disaster recovery after large-scale disasters. With the unexpected loss of lives, destruction of property, and a number of people homeless, the Philippine government updated its old primary disaster management law and enacted the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA).


Unlike the old law, the PDRRMA is said to be pro-active and holistic in its approach and has–for the first time–addressed the issue of post-disaster recovery. The Philippine government, as well as Ketsana post-disaster responders, became optimistic with the enactment of PDRRMA that the thousands of homeless disaster victims would finally receive adequate housing and resettlement. Years have passed since the passage of this law and beneficiaries have received housing assistance from the government, non-government organizations, and foreign and local donors. Yet, in-depth qualitative studies on how the law’s post-disaster provisions were implemented on the ground, given the multiplicity of actors and the plurality of legal and nonlegal normative orders that surround PDRRMA, seemed missing.

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