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Poverty is the killer in ‘natural’ disaster

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Issue 2379

Why have so many people died after typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines?

Many commentators argue that the scale of destruction is a result of the impact of climate change. 

The region is known for extreme weather events. It sees an average of 20 typhoons a year.  

These have been getting worse. Records show that in the last 23 years the Philippines has suffered its five most devastating typhoons.

Climate change is increasing the risk of “super typhoons”. 

But extreme weather events don’t have to lead to the deaths of thousands of people. 

The real reason that so many people died as a result of typhoon Haiyan is poverty. 

The buildings that millions of ordinary people live in cannot withstand the extremes of weather that the region experiences.

Over a quarter of the country’s population live below the poverty line. 

Around a third of the homes in the city of Tacloban at the centre of the typhoon were built with wooden walls. 

The census shows that one in seven homes had a grass roof. 

Yet time after time the aftermath of these extreme weather events shows that some buildings—made of concrete—are much more resilient. 

Poor families took shelter from the Philippines’ last super typhoon Bopha in December last year in the only solid buildings they could get to. 

These are often churches and other public buildings. After Bopha hundreds fled to a concrete sports stadium for safety. 

Families lived on the tiered seats in tents for months because their flimsy homes had been destroyed. 

Yet there is no reason   everyone cannot live in a properly constructed home, except poverty.

There is wealth in the Philippines, but it is concentrated in the hands of a minority. The country ranks as one of the most unequal in the world.

The fleet of the US, the richest country in the world, is never far from this ex-US colony. 

The US and British governments are going to make much of the aid they are sending to the area. 

But people need more than emergency aid when disaster strikes. 

They need a permanent solution to a system that pushes millions into city slums to find work, while the economy booms for the rich.  

The billions spent on warships roaming the world’s oceans ready to inflict devastation could be better spent on making millions of people safe. 

Shipyard workers losing their jobs in Britain could be employed to generate energy in ways that don’t make climate change worse. 

The scale of devastation inflicted by this latest super typhoon need never happen again. 


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