Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, caused the deaths of more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in November 2013 and left millions more homeless. With the emergency aid measures now over and the reconstruction phase under way, Switzerland has topped its engagement in the Philippines with a support for the organisation of a conference in Manila on reducing risks and managing natural disasters. The conference, with the title "Post-Haiyan/Yolanda – A Way Forward", took place within the framework of the Asia-Europe Dialogue (ASEM) on 4–6 June 2014.
Alongside the European Union and Japan, Switzerland co-organised the conference, which was chaired by the Government of the Philippines, and actively participated in preparing and running it. In particular, it sent several disaster-prevention specialists to the Philippines, who contributed to the discussion.
Visit to the island of Leyte
Switzerland also financed a visit by the conference participants to the site of Tacloban, situated on the island of Leyte. In this zone, which was devastated by the typhoon in 2013, representatives of more than 35 countries from Europe and Asia were not only able to see with their own eyes the full extent of the destruction but also the incredible effort made since then by the local authorities to overcome the disaster and resume normal life.
Meetings with local officials offered the opportunity to understand what lies behind the success of the local recovery effort, which was in part achieved thanks to international aid and the help of the central government. Good preparation by local rescue teams and the responsibility taken by the municipal authorities were cited among other reasons for this success.
The participants also highlighted the local shortcomings in disaster prevention, which included the fact that existing maps of danger zones did not indicate the extent of the areas that could be affected by extreme events, giving many residents a false idea of their safety. In addition, information on the rise in the sea level and the massive waves that could follow was not translated into a language that could be sufficiently well understood by the local people.