Stop calling these events ‘natural’ disasters…

In the first week of November 2013, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones every recorded made it’s way through Southeast Asia. Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, left a trail of destruction which galvanized international humanitarian support and media attention. There was a lot of interest in how many people were affected, killed, and how the public can help – and a lot of this awareness was being visualized using infographics (see below screenshot from a Google image search). With all this focus on the death and destruction, I was urgently requested to come up with a visual.

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Rather than continuing along the same lines like everyone else, I wanted to highlight the long-term impacts and economic implications from the disaster and a message that our UNISDR team has consisted drilled home: that disasters are not natural, but an interaction between where we live, how we create risks, and how vulnerable we are.

Disasters don’t happen in isolation and have far reaching implications than just the people who died. The bar and line graph was an attempt to show that while deaths from disasters have been decreasing for the Philippines over the last 20 years, the economic costs are increasing impacting the future development of the country. There was also a lot of talk about the height of the storm surge and I wanted to show what a 4m high storm surge looked like in comparison to the average height of a two-story house – interviews with people verified that in some places waves reached the second floor of buildings. With a concept brewing around the graphic, our team was also covering the climate change conference (COP 19) which took place in Poland as the Philippines felt the wrath of Haiyan. When it came time for the Philippines to speak, they also repeated UNISDR’s message – a great quote to tie everything together for the graphic.

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More probably could’ve been done with the graphic if there was more time, data, analysis, and research, but overall it’s a unique forward-looking visual to communicate a complex situation – something to inspire people to think more broadly about disasters like Haiyan. Download the graphic here.

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