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Floodwaters of death - Vulnerability and disaster in Ormoc City, Philippines: Assessing the 1991 flood and twenty years of recovery

Alders, Theresa (2017) Floodwaters of death - Vulnerability and disaster in Ormoc City, Philippines: Assessing the 1991 flood and twenty years of recovery. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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On 5 November 1991, a relatively weak and slow-moving Typhoon Thelma—locally codenamed ‘Uring’—with maximum winds of 55 kph, triggered deadly flashfloods that left an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 people dead, over 2,000 missing, at least 3,000 injured, and massive devastation in infrastructure and agriculture valued at over 200 million pesos, or approximately US$7.3 million. Using ethnography, documentary research and interviews, this dissertation asks about the nature of social change and transformation in a calamitous situation. It assesses the causes of the 1991 flood, its impacts, and twenty-two years of recovery, focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable communities and families. It argues that, in the face of the systematic exploitation and privatization of land for cash crop agriculture since the turn of the twentieth century and the consequent creation of social vulnerability, it was not a ‘natural’ disaster. It is the first known study of its kind to document personal stories of continuing survival in the Philippines after a massive disaster, and as such challenges conventional wisdom that vulnerability for families and communities is resolved after the implementation of intervention programs by government agencies and well-meaning non-government organizations. Using case studies of three communities that survived the 1991 flash floods, it provides a three-fold conclusion. First, poverty and vulnerability are twin situations that remain persistent even after twentytwo years of intervention, with new forms of economic dependency being established in these new communities. Second, the lack of accountability and learning continue to predispose a large portion of Ormoc society to persistent poverty and vulnerability. Finally, the lack of a wide-ranging social memory of that disaster contributes to the lack of accountability and learning.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
United Nations SDGs: Goal 1: No Poverty
Supervisor(s): Warren, James
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