esplin_280On December 17th 2011, tropical storm ‘Sendong’ – internationally known as ‘Washi’ – struck northern parts of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

An estimated 1200 people were killed and many are still missing. Despite typhoons and tropical storms being common in the Philippines, they are rare in this area. The storm was relatively small, yet it’s resulting destruction was the worst in the islands’ memory.

There were many contributing factors to the disproportionate death toll of the typhoon, which suggest it is not a natural disaster, but rather a man made one. Logging is commonly cited as the leading cause. As the rains fell in Illigan City and Cagayan De Oro (the main affected cities) people were unaware of the floodwaters rushing down from the hinterlands carrying logs that would destroy thousands of houses, infrastructure and lives.

In response, the government immediately revoked logging licenses. However, the industry continues to operate. Only 6% of the Philippines forestry remains, despite years of campaigning by environmental activists and tribal communities to fault the export of timber from the area.

Many survivors remain in evacuation centres months after the storm. They have little knowledge of how long they will inhabit the gymnasiums, schools and public areas they now call home: some have been advised they could remain in tents for up to one year before they are relocated. 

As the Government struggles to respond to the emergency, crippled by it’s own inefficiency and reports of corruption, there is growing frustration in the region, as those affected cry out for accountability.
Mark Esplin