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Thursday, January 16, 2014

A History of Destructive Typhoons in the Philippines: 1930-2013

When Typhoon Haiyan struck, the skeptic that I am hesitated to believe what news outlets reported about the event. It was an emotional time and many sounded sensational. Was it in fact the most disastrous typhoon ever to hit the Philippines? Are extreme weather events indeed increasing in this country? Where was the evidence?

Today, three months late, I have looked at the data. The source is the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database (www.emdat.be) hosted by Universit√© catholique de Louvain. It records natural disasters defined under 4 criteria. I focus on typhoons and floods that have afflicted the Philippines from 1930 to the end of the data, September 2013. Thus, while Haiyan has not yet been entered in the dataset, I include it under the assumption that it killed ~6000 and affected 15M according to the UNFPA.

The results are below. My questions answered in 3 graphs:






Before anyone claims the above as definitive evidence of climate change though, I offer two caveats. Could the increasing incidence of typhoons reflect better capabilities over time to record natural calamities? I am unsure and unfortunately have not read enough about the data to judge. But there appear to be a significant number of zeros and missing data that occur prior to 1963, so I want to caution readers about this limitation. Next, that natural disasters increase in occurrence could merely be a function of population. Over time, more people are hit by typhoons because there are simply more people. Nevertheless, the data does seem to show that the Philippines is subject to greater risk over time. I am interested in reading further analysis on the topic.