Learning from Typhoon Haiyan: Asian governments failing to respond to climate change

Published: 6th November 2014

A year after super-typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, a new report issued today by the international humanitarian and development agency Oxfam, Can't Afford to Wait reveals that Asian governments are not prioritizing disaster risk reduction initiatives, despite projections that the region will suffer more from climate change in the future. 

Asia is the most disaster-prone region of the world, according to the United Nations Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)[1]. In 2013, 78 percent of people killed by disasters lived in Asia even though only 43 percent of global disasters occurred here[2]. Over the past 20 years, Asia has borne almost half the estimated global economic cost of disasters triggered by natural phenomena, amounting to almost $53 billion annually[3]. Harvest losses alone related to flooding in Southeast Asia have an estimated annual value of $1 billion[4].

If no action is taken,  four countries—Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—could suffer a loss equivalent to 6.7 percent of GDP annually by 2100, more than double the global average loss, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB)[5]. This is an abrupt reversal for many economies across Asia, which has seen an average GDP rate of 6 percent increases every year since 2012.

If not adequately addressed, climate change could set back the region’s development and poverty eradication efforts. Oxfam analyzed the DRR-CCA policies in all ten Member States of the ASEAN region and four Member States from the SAARC region and found, however, that many Asian governments are underinvesting in agricultural plans to improve their people’s resilience to climate change. 

Human cost of disasters outstripping plans to cope


When governments fail to implement climate policies well, the cards are stacked against poor people.

Snehal Soneji, Country Director
Oxfam in Bangladesh

The report finds that most governments in Asia have established policies around disaster and climate change preparedness, but these plans have been implemented with varying success. Disaster risk reduction programs often demand significant coordination between national ministries and local governments. Oxfam’s assessment finds that the latter are often unable to give local communities the tools to prepare, react and recover from disasters. The governments of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines need to overcome difficulties in managing coordination. The scale of the human cost of disasters in Asia is outstripping all attempts to even cope, let alone overcome, the threat that climate change represents.

“When governments fail to implement climate policies well, the cards are stacked against poor people. In Asia, it is small food producers who often live in harm’s way. They have no savings or assets to tide them over after a disaster. It is they who will lose in the fight against climate change” stated Snehal Soneji, Oxfam Country Director in Bangladesh.

In its review of recovery one year after Typhoon Haiyan, Oxfam found that while the Philippine government has shown leadership in the transition from humanitarian response, the impact of recovery might be dampened if the capacity of local authorities are not further resourced. Disaster risk reduction measures, such as updated land use plans and fully staffed DRR offices, are not always functional at local levels. The government’s US$3.9 billion Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) presents the opportunity to include a meaningful plan for capacity building at local levels, boosting the skills of dedicated DRR staff and ensuring all municipalities - including the poorer ones - have the resources they need to effectively implement recovery and disaster management plans. 

One year since Haiyan struck, despite the significant levels of humanitarian assistance delivered to the Philippines, families continue to struggle to find the resources to resume their livelihoods, with risks of deepening poverty in an already-poor region.

Over one million coconut farming households and 200,000 fishing households have been affected, sectors characterized by already-subsistence level incomes. Oxfam has worked across 32 municipalities since last November, investing $42 million (of a $65 million three-year plan) to help over 868,960 people with clean water supplies, community latrines, water pumps, cash vouchers for food and home repairs, fishing boat replacement and repairs, clearing coconut tree debris, and setting up sawmills to convert the debris into lumber for shelters. 

If the population’s vulnerability that Haiyan rendered so starkly visible is not addressed, typhoon-affected communities will remain in harm’s way - exposed to future disasters and deeper poverty. 

Asia is home to two-thirds of the world’s food-insecure population, who, ironically, are mostly small-scale food producers – farmers and fisherfolk. Sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion and flooding are now a constant threat for farmers along thousands of miles of coastline, potentially affecting some 3.5 to 5 million people in Asia[6]. Adverse effects on food production are rapidly changing what food is available and whether government safety nets are inadequate. 

Regional institutions to play a larger role

Regional cooperation across Asia is crucial to deal with climate change as countries are often simultaneously affected. Oxfam’s analysis finds that regional institutions such as SAARC and ASEAN should do more to boost financing for national climate adaptation. Countries in this region also need to seize the opportunity to negotiate collectively to secure the financial support they desperately need, from rich countries, at the upcoming UNFCCC international climate meeting in Lima, Peru in December.

“Rich countries need to support Asia’s developing countries to enable them to protect their citizens against climate disasters. There is a unique opportunity to remember the devastation of Haiyan, and to pledge to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). US$15 billion in pledges by the Peru meeting, with a 50%-50% balance between climate change adaptation and mitigation, would be a fitting tribute” concluded 

In the face of predictions of more extreme weather, Asian governments and international donor governments are responsible to protect citizens by following through on their pledges and scaling up current programs that help ensure resilience to climate-related risks. 

Notes to editors

Contact information

For further information or interviews, please contact:

  • Norly Mercado, Philippines, +63 917 5406764 or nmercado@oxfam.org.uk
  • Sue Rooks, Media Officer, New York, +1 917 224 0834 or sue.rooks@oxfaminternational.org 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.