Super Typhoon Mangkhut Hammers The Philippines

Sep 15, 2018
Originally published on September 19, 2018 5:21 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

While the U.S. deals with Florence, Southeast Asia is dealing with Mangkhut. That's a massive typhoon that cut across the northern Philippines and is tracking towards southern China. NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from Manila in the Philippines. Julie, thanks so much for joining us.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: What is the condition of the northern Philippines after this powerful storm system moved through?

MCCARTHY: Well, I'd say, Michel, uncertainty. A thorough assessment of the damage has been all but - is all but impossible because of all the inclement weather the storm has pulled in its wake. This storm, known locally here as Ompong, has knocked out power. It's cut transmission - telephone transmission lines. It's triggered landslides and storm surges. Two rescuers were killed yesterday in a landslide. There are already more reports of people being killed in the storm. It's fluid and rising. Having said that, this storm seems to have left a relatively small imprint compared to what was forecast, which was a scenario of wide-scale devastation and death.

MARTIN: And, you know, we can't help but notice that this typhoon landed in the Philippines at nearly the same time as Florence crashed into the Carolinas here in the U.S., but I understand that the planning and the response are quite different. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MCCARTHY: Yeah. I think you're struck by watching this magnitude of a storm and seeing the preparations that lead up to it and the imbalance in resources that are available in the Philippines. Ompong reveals how resources and planning can dictate how well a country fares in these natural disasters and how many people end up surviving. Planning matters. Capacity matters. And money in the ability to save lives matters.

Now, this may seem obvious, but think about this imbalance in the United States. The president declares a national disaster, and everyone in the nation assumes the financial responsibility for it. We don't question it because we have the financial wherewithal to absorb it. Now, in the Philippines, this year, the budget for disaster risk reduction was 19 billion pesos. That's about $350 million. And this was the 15th storm, Michel, so far of the year in the Philippines.

So when President Trump can say any amount of money whatever it takes regarding Florence, in the Philippines, they just don't have that kind of luxury to think in those terms. Disaster bureaucrats have to plan very tight budgets. And the people generally of the Philippines - generally is much poorer than the Southeastern United States, which means that there's no storm insurance. They tend to be less sturdy homes. And first responders are less well-equipped.

MARTIN: And could you talk just a little bit more about the practical implications - fewer evacuation centers, rescue boats, less equipment, less aid supplies?

MCCARTHY: That's exactly right, all of the above. And that storm points to this extra burden countries such as the Philippines bear in contending with big natural disasters. I was scratching my head about that very thing - evacuation centers. And I wondered why they weren't moving people out of harm's way a lot earlier than the night of the storm. Then it was explained to me that a mayor doesn't have the resources to build a shelter. They have to billet people in schools. And this means the kids don't get educated. And so the local authorities don't encourage people to evacuate until the last minute.

So this is a story about the harsh reality of nature. It's also about the harsh economic realities that poor countries face as they face down natural disasters. And it's predicted that countries like the Philippines are going to increasingly be burdened with ever more calamities as a result of global warming and frequent severe storms.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Julie McCarthy talking to us from the Philippines. Julie, thank you so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.