Slower growth, more poverty feared in Philippines after super-typhoon
MANILA – Due to the vast devastation and huge loss of lives wrought by super-typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) that slammed the Central Philippines a week ago, the country’ economic growth could slow down and the incidence of poverty could rise.
On Friday, the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the top economic policy-making body of the government, said that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by only 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter.
The NEDA is now saying that the full-year GDP growth could range from 6.5 and 7 percent, slower than the earlier forecast of 7.3 percent. But the full-year GDP growth forecast still remains at the high end of the government’s 2013 target of 6 to 7 percent.
In a statement, NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan acknowledged the need for massive relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts to ease the impact of the calamity on the economy.
“To ensure that we regain lost ground the soonest, we need to accelerate the implementation of social and economic development projects,” Balisacan said.
Earlier, Balisacan also said that Haiyan and other natural calamities that have struck the Philippines could push more households into “transient” poverty.
He said that a significant portion of the country’s poor are ” transient poor” or people who were previously not poor but were suddenly pushed below the poverty line because of untoward incidents, including natural calamities.
The latest poverty report said that 27.9 percent of Filipinos were living below the poverty line in the first semester of 2012.
Based on initial government estimate, the overall cost of damage in the regions affected by the typhoon has reached 761,400, 371.89 pesos (about 17.7 million U.S. dollars), more than 560 million pesos (13 million U.S. dollars) of which came from the agriculture sector.
Haiyan hit the Central Philippine region of Visayas less than a month after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck and severely affected the island-provinces of Bohol and Cebu in the region.
Surprisingly, a major international rating agency has said that despite the massive destruction brought about by super-typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines’ economic fundamentals have remained intact.
In a report this week, Moody’s Investor Service that while the loss of lives and damage to property were “overwhelming,” the overall effect on the real economy was likely to be muted.
Moody’s said that Haiyan may be the worst calamity to hit Southeast Asia in nearly a decade that rivaled in scale only by the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.
However, while the loss in human lives was overwhelming, the overall effect on the real economy was likely to be muted.
Moody’s explained that the contribution of the local economies of Leyte and other provinces in the Visayas that hit hard by Haiyan to the overall GDP was little compared to that of Metro Manila and the Southern Luzon Region which contributed 53 percent of the GDP in 2012.
Fortunately, these areas were unaffected by the super-typhoon, Moody’s said.
Moody’s still expects the Philippine economy to grow by 7 percent this year, which is what the NEDA is expecting for the whole year.
NEDA said that this is still attainable, considering the robust growth of the economy in the first two quarters — at 7.7 and 7.5 percent, respectively. The figures were the highest in Asia during the period matched only by that of China.
Meanwhile, a week after the onslaught of the super-typhoon, the distribution of food, water, medicine and other basic needs to the tens of thousands of victims in the disaster areas has speeded up.
There has also been a massive infusion of aid assistance from foreign countries and international aid agencies.
But over the weekend, the Philippine government and the United Nations still could not agree on the number of casualties from the killer typhoon.
The Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the government agency that supervises rescue and search operations during calamities, said that as of Saturday morning, the death toll was 3,633, while 12,487 were injured and 1,179 still missing.
But the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing figures gathered from regional officials, has put the death toll at 4,460 on Friday. The OCHA said that the total number of people affected by Yolanda was 11.6 million, much higher than the NDRRMC’s estimate of 9.6 million people.
The NDRRMC figure of 3,633 was way higher than the estimate of not more than 2,500 deaths made by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. In an interview last Monday with an international TV network, Aquino said that the initial death toll of 10,000 was incorrect and could have been announced by some local officials after an “emotional trauma.”
But Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez said that one neighborhood in the coastline of his city with 10,000 to 20,000 people was now completely deserted. He said it was possible that the residents must have been swept out to the sea and their bodies sucked by tsunami-like giant waves.