Explain why the Philippines and California are affected by disasters in different ways

6 June 2016

They are both considered hazard hotspots and frequently experience natural disasters. A natural disaster is the realisation of a hazard. California is an MEDC, the 6th largest economy in the world with a GDP of US$65000 per capita.

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However, despite the high risk of hazards it is a very desirable place to live because of its relaxed lifestyle and natural beauty. The population is growing mainly due to immigration which means that cities such Los Angeles are becoming more vulnerable. The Philippines is a Newly Industrialised Country (NIC) and has low to middle income of US$5000 per capita. Their economy is mostly dependant on agriculture (because of the rich, fertile soils on the volcanic hills), manufacturing and tourism, which are all at risk from the natural disasters. Although it is only a small group of islands, the population is huge at 91 million (over twice the size of California’s).

Both California and the Philippines lie on plate boundaries and therefore both suffer from tectonic hazards. As with all plate boundaries, friction often builds up between the plates also causing regular earthquakes which can sometimes result in tsunamis as well. In the Philippines earthquakes have multiple impacts. This is partly to do with the physical geography of the land. Being a group of islands means that the epicentres of the earthquakes are often in the sea, which increases the likelihood of tsunamis. It is also very mountainous inland which means many areas are vulnerable to landslides.

One earthquake in 2006 triggered landslides, a flood and a local tsunami 3 feet high. Another relatively minor earthquake was one of the causes of a catastrophic mudslide, killing1150 people. The Philippines does not have the economic resources to deal with the aftermaths of hazards very effectively therefore they have a low capacity to cope. Also the tsunamis and mudslides destroy farmlands and crops which means that people lose their source of income and possibly their homes. It can be difficult to rebuild their lives after this. California also suffers enormously from as it lies on a conservative boundary between the Pacific and North American plate. The San Andreas Fault runs all the way down the coastline of California where many cities namely San Francisco lie right on top. Two high magnitude earthquakes struck California over 5 years.

The second one, (Northridge earthquake) January 1994 in Los Angeles was of magnitude 6.7 on the Richter scale. There were also many aftershocks ranging from magnitude 4 to 5 which caused further damage. Because of the dense population in Los Angeles, human impacts were big considering the efficiency of the emergency services and aid available: 57 died, more than 1500 were seriously injured, 9000 homes were without electricity and 48,500 people had no access to clean water. The economic impacts were also big because California is an MEDC meaning that many people have expensive possessions and there is a lot of expensive infrastructure in the city. California does have, though, a high capacity to deal with the high hazard risk. Primarily, they have the money to invest enormously in hospitals, emergency services and high-tech hazard-resistant buildings. Both California and the Philippines have coast on the Pacific Ocean.

This means that much of their weather is dependent on the El Nino and La Nina oscillations. For California, the El Nino oscillation means wetter weather as it brings sub-tropical winds carrying heavy rain and consequently increased flooding, storms and landslides. La Nina oscillations means that California receives dry winds from the Arizona and Mexican deserts causing dry, hot weather often resulting in drought and increased wildfires. For the Philippines this is the other way round. The Philippines is also within the Typhoon belt and so receives up to 20 typhoons every year, particularly in the north. Most floods in California are due to the overflowing of rivers, for example, in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers where 390,000 people are exposed.

Flooding is dependent on the EL Nino Oscillation so regular severe flooding only really occurs for a few years at a time. Economic losses can be huge. Many areas are also at risk to landslides after flooding, as deforestation and wildfires have made the hillsides vulnerable to soil erosion. Severe flooding undermined California’s flood defences as the December-January floods of 1996/97, one of the wettest seasons on record, destroyed hundreds of levees causing severe flooding and landslides, killing 9 and displacing 230,000 people. $2 billion worth of flood management infrastructure was also damaged. However, a lot of money has gone into channelising rivers away from high-risk areas.

Because of the efficient emergency services only 9 people died and temporary shelter could be arranged for the people who were displaced. In the Philippines however, floods have a more severe impact because of their incapacity to deal with the impacts. In 2009 Typhoon Ketsana, with winds of 100mph, dumped 16.7 inches of rain in just 12 hrs. 246 died and 2 million were affected in Manila where 80% of the city was submerged. The National Disaster Co-ordinating Council was overwhelmed and unable to provide sufficient aid for everyone, which accounts for the high death toll. The death toll in the Philippines was much higher than in California because they did not have the capacity to cope. Also as it is an LEDC the government can only spend so much on risk management as there are so many other more pressing matters that must be prioritised.

Overall, the Philippines and California are affected by disasters in different ways because of the economic resources of the country, the country’s development and because of its physical geography. California has more money to invest in things like emergency services, temporary shelters and hazard defences e.g. channelising the rivers. Also because it is very developed there are less chances of landslides. The Philippines are not yet highly developed and much of the high risk coast is still made up of remote villages/regions which are very vulnerable. Also, deforestation in the area has reduced their once densely forested land to just 18.3% of the land cover which has considerable effects on the severity of flooding and landslides as there is nothing to soak up the excess water or to absorb the landslides.

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