ASEAN’S MOST FREQUENT NATURAL PHENOMENA
Living in Southeast Asia, not a week goes by without hearing of an earthquake, flood, tornado, or other natural hazard occurring somewhere in the region. Natural hazards stem from sources ranging from geological, meteorological, hydrological to oceanic, among others. Sometimes, these hazards act in combination, resulting in the phenomena known as hydro-meteorological hazards.
The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) defines hydro-meteorological hazards as “the process or phenomenon of atmospheric, hydrological, or oceanographic nature that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage”. They account for over 75% of damages related to disasters, including casualties, economic losses, infrastructure damage, and disruption to everyday life.
These types of hazards include tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes), floods (and flash floods), drought, thunderstorms, coastal storm surges, and heatwaves. Hydro-meteorological hazards can also influence other risks such as landslides, wildfires, and epidemics.
The ASEAN region is especially prone to hydro-meteorological phenomena due to its geographic setting and climate. In 2021 alone, the ASEAN Disaster Information Network (ADINet) recorded that out of the 1,406 disasters that occurred in the ASEAN region, 99% were classified as hydro-meteorological in nature. One of the worst hydro-meteorological hazards to hit Southeast Asia in the last decade is Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines), which struck on 8 November 2013. It is largely considered to be one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded in world history, with wind gusts reaching up to 320 km/hour. It affected over 16 million people, with 6,300 deaths, 1,000 missing persons, and 28,000 injuries recorded in the aftermath.
Though hydro-meteorological hazards have always been around, the ongoing effects of climate change are expected to exacerbate disasters associated with these hazards. Rising heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures cause changes in weather patterns, disrupting the delicate balance of nature. Droughts become longer and more intense, affecting crop yields and the economies of farming communities. Meanwhile, tropical storms grow larger and fiercer, and rising sea levels erode coastlines, threatening the lives and livelihoods of coastal populations. Even densely populated urban communities are not exempt from the risks, as severe flooding can result in damage to infrastructure and financial loss.
Though the intensifying frequency and severity of hydro-meteorological hazards pose a threat to ASEAN countries, hydro-meteorological hazards can often be anticipated and monitored through weather forecasting, meaning that governments and communities have the chance to prepare, respond, and even evacuate accordingly. Having early warning systems in place can greatly increase the odds of survival and lessen the human and economic impact of hydro-meteorological hazards.
Adequate preparation and protective measures can be taken to prevent such hazards from turning into severe disasters. These include constructing typhoon-resistant structures and housing, improving infrastructures to better absorb and retain water during heavy rains or storms, planting mangroves along shorelines to protect coastal areas from storm surges and winds, and educating communities on how to respond during the event of a hazard, in order to prevent human casualties. Additionally, governments, the private sector, and the public must all actively participate in climate change mitigation to limit global warming and reduce its effects on the climate.
At the end of the day, learning and adapting to live alongside the natural hazards will be the key to developing ASEAN into a robust and resilient region.
• AHA Centre, Disaster by the Numbers 2021
Written by: Gladys Respati