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Remembering Typhoon Haiyan

Four years ago, the Philippines was utterly devastated by the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record, Typhoon Haiyan. The 30th storm of the 2013 Pacific Typhoon season, Haiyan originally seemed to be just another strong tropical storm. However, as it moved west, it kept gaining power at a seemingly exponential rate.

On November 6th, the superstorm made landfall. Reaching a category 5 evaluation right upon impact, the highest level possible, Haiyan touched down with a fury never before recorded in modern history. Reports from the ground, although not official, documented that wind speeds reached up to 230 miles per hour, equivalent to the top speed of a NASCAR stock car, whipping around from all directions. For perspective, the highest confirmed wind speed was 190 miles per hour, recorded during Hurricane Camille, which made landfall in 1969 on the US Gulf Coast. However, Camille was only 1/5 the size of Haiyan. 

The combination of extreme wind speeds and massive amounts of water dumped upon the country by sheets of rain and walls of waves created a literal perfect storm, an exhibit of the truly terrible power of nature. The damage created was swift and immense. Although there were massive amounts of people evacuated from the storm path, Haiyan claimed still 6,300 lives in the Philippines, making it the deadliest typhoon in their history. When all was said and done, Haiyan had changed the lives of over 11 million people, many of whom were left homeless and hopeless. In addition, on the island of Bohol, one of the largest in the Philippine chain, the typhoon had come only weeks after a devastating earthquake, making the recovery process all the more difficult.

Although the World Health Organization and other international organizations came to the aid of the Philippines, the damage done the national infrastructure in washed out roads, lack of clean water, and many other disruptions to the country’s structural health sunk the relief efforts into a  quagmire. Survivors struggled to get food or water, and widespread looting began to grip the country. However, one of the problems that persists to this day was the issue of where to move the six million people that were displaced, a third of whom were also homeless. Many fled to cities like Manila and Cebu that were less affected by the storms, which soon verged on overcrowded. Others set up wherever they could, using government assistance to create the most basic of concrete structures in which to raise their families.

Hearing about these tragedies, Wisconsin Microfinance decided to add themselves to the relief effort by setting up a program on the island of Bohol similar to the ones that had been working in Haiti. As of today, we have over a dozen borrowers who have begun the long and arduous process of picking up the pieces of their lives that were scattered by Haiyan. Most use the additional capital to be able to increase inventories in their stores and get extra help, allowing their businesses to grow and their children to return to school. Even today, many are still trying to rebuild houses that were wiped out by the Typhoon and earthquake.

Although the disaster uprooted and wiped out huge swaths of agricultural land and disrupted every single production chain, the Philippines has bounced back from the typhoon with a resilience that few expected. A year afterward, the economy was already back to growing at a high rate due to the support of government programs and international aid.

However, these storms are not the exception to the rule. Hurricane intensity tends to be much higher in warm waters, and as we continue to experience the hottest year on record after the record, these natural disasters will only get more powerful. In only the last month, the Caribbean experienced three back-to-back-to-back Category 3 or above storms in the span of two weeks. In fact, climate scientists are now mulling the possibility of a category six storm, which had previously been seen as impossible. With future climate predictions becoming increasingly unstable, there is only one thing for certain: We had better get used to rebuilding.