Typhoon Haiyan is a natural phenomenon, though one perhaps exacerbated by climate change.
However, the scale of suffering has been worsened enormously by the five fold increase in the population of the Philippines since 1950, from less than 19 million then to almost 100 million today. (1)
Pressure on space and resources means people are more likely to live in areas vulnerable to storms, such as coastal and low lying areas, where land is cheaper and where they can access fish stocks.
Poverty, to which population growth contributes significantly, means that people cannot afford the sturdy dwellings which can withstand extreme weather events.
The sheer numbers of people mean that more suffer when storms do strike and that recovery efforts are that much more difficult.
The average birth rate in the Philippines, though falling, is still around three per woman.(1) While family planning is now legal, decades of rearguard action by the conservative local Catholic hierarchy means that access and use is limited. Only one third of married women of childbearing age are using a modern method.(2)
If we are to limit the impact of future disasters, we must help vulnerable communities to manage their family size. That means supporting initiatives such as the FP2020 initiative (3) which mobilizes global policy, financing, commodity, and service delivery commitments to support the rights of an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use contraceptive information, services and supplies, without coercion or discrimination, by 2020.
It also means integrating sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equity, together with small family messaging, in the planned Sustainable Development Goals.