The destruction and lasting effects of Typhoon Haiyan add to the chaotic whirlwind of continuing worldwide disasters.
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Well before it made landfall, one thing was clear: Typhoon Haiyan was no ordinary storm, in an area that sees a number of them each year. It was a massive, unbelievable swirling force with staggering destructive potential.
The tropical cyclone, also known as Yolanda, whipped up some of the highest wind speeds ever recorded, with sustained winds near 200 mph and gusts up to 235 mph. Although these numbers may have diminished somewhat as it struck the eastern edge of the Visayas (the group of islands constituting the Philippines’ central region), it still hit with a fury that left the area reeling.
Initial reports placed the death toll at three, then four victims. A day or so later, a figure of 1,500 emerged. But anyone paying attention to the storm’s strength—and especially those who have been to the Philippines—knew that these early counts were misleadingly low.
After the storm tore through the region then headed northwest toward Vietnam, the effects became visible: “Corpses hung from trees, were scattered on sidewalks or buried in flattened buildings—some of the 10,000 people believed killed in one Philippine city [Tacloban] alone by ferocious Typhoon Haiyan that washed away homes and buildings with powerful winds and giant waves” (The Associated Press).
Among the most severely affected areas is Leyte Island, site of legendary World War II battles between American and Japanese forces. A BBC correspondent reported from its largest city, Tacloban, home to 200,000: “People say this town was hit by a wall of water when the typhoon hit on…There is the stench of rotting corpses. Driving in from the airport, we saw scores of bodies lying by the roadside. For three days they have been there, with no one to bury them.
“People are desperate for food, clean water and shelter. At the badly battered airport, a makeshift hospital has been set up. We saw two young women giving birth, laid out among the debris.”
While options are limited in the face of a storm such as Haiyan, human decisions also had a bearing on the outcome. The Economist reported, “As Typhoon Haiyan approached, tens of thousands of people in its path followed the ordinary drill: leaving their homes and sheltering in public buildings regarded as being storm-proof. But tens of thousands more clearly failed to follow the drill. People tend to be reluctant to leave their homes or businesses in times of emergency, for fear of looters. Typhoons rarely hit the central and southern Philippines, and people there tend not to take storm warnings as seriously as do the storm-hardened peoples of northern Luzon island.”
The Telegraph quoted David Carden, head of the United Nation’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Manila, as saying, “This is every bit as bad as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.”
The director of one aid organization called the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon “absolute bedlam,” a term that originated with London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital, a notorious insane asylum that opened in the mid-1300s. This remark evokes the chaos now affecting millions of Philippines residents.
Those whose lives were spared in the flooding and destructive winds face a more prolonged battle for survival. As the winds and rain abated, the struggle for many in the Visayas had just begun.
Hunger and thirst were an immediate reminder that normal life had been severely disrupted. And though the average family income is perhaps only $3,000 per year, money becomes useless in the face of disaster.
Haiyan ravaged communication infrastructure, making all levels of coordination difficult or impossible.
With aid slowed by blocked roads and flattened airports, looting took hold. “‘We’ve been told it’s OK to take food,’ said one man who had just raided the supermarket at a Tacloban shopping mall. ‘It’s really difficult now. We have had death in the family from the storm so we must care for the living and do anything to survive’” (The Telegraph).
Millions of Filipinos were left homeless. Medical care was non-existent, and medicine unavailable. Children, the elderly, and the disabled were left especially vulnerable. One gut-wrenching television interview featured a middle-aged man who, with an expression somewhere between grief and numb resignation, confirmed through a Tagalog translator that he had lost his mother, his wife, and all four of his children.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III considered imposing martial law, but instead chose to declare a state of national calamity.
Comparing this devastating event to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. gives a sense of proportion. Haiyan was stronger than Sandy and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina combined. At one point, its clouds covered all 115,000 square miles of the Philippines, with the most destructive winds near the center of the swirling vortex. Whereas those (still devastating) American storms hit relatively small sections of a large nation with vast resources and a huge GDP, this typhoon slammed into the midsection of a small country largely dependent on foreign aid.
Beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis, long-lasting economic effects await. “Until the storm hit, the Philippines’ economy had been expected to grow 6.8% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and actually grew more than 7% in the first half of the year,” USA Today reported. “Its government debt has an investment-grade rating, which Fitch Ratings raised earlier this year, and its consumers spend more freely than in some developing nations, but it had weak infrastructure and relatively high unemployment at 7.5% even before the storm hit, according to an analysis by accounting firm Deloitte in September.”
The news organization continued, “Haiyan’s total impact may reach $14 billion (U.S. dollars), said economic consulting firm Moody’s Analytics. As many as 9.5 million people, or 10% of the population, may have been directly affected by the typhoon, with half the nation’s sugar cane fields and a third of its rice-growing land wiped out, Moody’s said.”
Of course, the most pressing need for the people of the Philippines now is basic sustenance. For many who lived in the direct path of the storm, the best-case scenario is dwelling in temporary housing such as tents for the foreseeable future; subsisting on food aid such as bulk grain and bottled water; and doing whatever one can to avoid the disease outbreaks that always follow large-scale natural disasters.
Filipinos are no strangers to weather upsets. A German newspaper article from Deutsche Welle labeled their nation a “country prone to natural disasters.”
The paper stated: “The Philippines has suffered from an inexhaustible number of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters. This is due to its location along the Ring of Fire, or typhoon belt—a large Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
“Annually, approximately 80 typhoons develop above tropical waters, of which 19 enter the Philippine region and six to nine make landfall, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
“The Philippines is in fact the country most exposed to tropical storms in the world. Violent tropical storms, such as the latest Haiyan typhoon, can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.”
Haiyan is the latest in the “inexhaustible number” of problems. When the typhoon made landfall, the nation was still recovering from a mid-October 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Bohol province in central Philippines. After the temblor, 222 people were dead, 976 injured, and more than 330,000 displaced.
In response, OCHA drew up an action plan that sought for “US$46.8 million to reach 344,300 people over a six-month period until April 2014.”
The UN agency reported: “Successive and simultaneous emergencies since August 2013 have stretched the resources of humanitarian responders. Additional funding is urgently needed for timely aid to reach the right people.”
All this before Haiyan had even formed in the Pacific.
Yet other manmade problems beset the nation, which have also added to hunger, homelessness and violent clashes.
One example is the lingering conflict between the Filipino government and rebel groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao, the nation’s southernmost island.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation summarized the long, multi-layered history of the situation: “The Mindanao conflict first flared in the 1960s when the Muslim minority—known as the Moros—launched an armed struggle for their ancestral homeland in the south.
“Mindanao also experiences violence linked to militant Islamist groups with pan-Asian aspirations, bloody ethnic vendettas, clan wars and banditry.
“Politics and religion aside, much of the violence is fuelled by deep poverty...”
In addition, the report added that a “Maoist insurgency has been carried out across the country for more than 40 years.”
The organization called the region “a melting pot of breakaway rebel groups, pan-Asian militant Islamist groups and communist rebels rubbing shoulders with mercenary kidnap groups and clan militias.”
“The presence of the army and so many armed factions often fans the fires of traditional family feuds, leading to clan-based violence on Mindanao. Both the army and rebel groups have been drawn on several occasions into clan confrontations, which have displaced thousands.”
“Regular eruptions of violence have forced hundreds of thousands of residents from their homes. Many return fairly quickly, only to be displaced again.”
Despite a 2012 peace deal between the government and the Moros, armed conflict continues. One of the latest examples occurred in mid-September. According to The Economist, multi-day “skirmishes began when the army and police opened fire to stop scores of rebels who were massing to enter the city [of Zamboanga]. The security forces accused the rebels of using civilian hostages as human shields.”
In the end, insurgents “killed at least 12 people, some of them civilians; displaced thousands; and paralysed normal life for the city of [one million people].”
The aftermath of Haiyan has also seen rebel attacks, this time from communists who ambushed an aid convoy destined for typhoon survivors in Tacloban.
With widespread poverty, ethnic rivalries, clan violence, and insurgent groups, Haiyan has only added fuel to the country’s persistent problems.
When tallying the numbers—10,000-plus dead and rising, millions homeless, entire villages wiped off the map—the human toll can be overwhelming. Events such as Typhoon Haiyan make people stop and think, which most often leads to a single-word question: Why?
Was it “Mother Nature” striking back at humanity? Simple time and chance? Where was God during this event?
Tragedies inevitably bring out the last question.
In the days following Haiyan’s landfall, CNN’s “Belief Blog” asked what God’s role is in natural disasters. The post detailed typical queries: “How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?”
Throughout the article, various religionists concluded that man keeps asking these things “perhaps because the answers remain so elusive,” calling them “thorny theological issues” and stating that there is simply “no good answer.”
Yet there is an answer.
Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack addressed this topic in the Personal Why Must There Be Human Suffering? The article explains the underlying reason for suffering—backed by ironclad proof from the Bible.
The purpose behind suffering is one of the most important topics for mankind. But learning about the tragedy in the Philippines from afar in a comfortable environment makes it easy to wax philosophical and then shift one’s attention to the next story in the news cycle.
Put yourself in the shoes of those who survived Haiyan. They must deal with the aftereffects now—with little time to ponder the greatest questions in life.
The Philippines has its own national response to disaster and hardship. Journalist Rachel Obordo summarized the resiliency and optimism of Filipinos in the Guardian: “The Philippines is used to natural disasters and extreme hardship. After this latest tragedy we’ll come back fighting.”
An extended quote from the author drives this point home: “With 98 million people vying for space and resources, surviving is part of the daily struggle. However, with thousands dead and millions displaced from their homes, Typhoon Haiyan has left us more vulnerable than ever.
“The Philippines experiences around 20 typhoons and natural-related disasters a year, with another one to hit early next week, and another four due before the end of the year…I’ve experienced my fair share of them. Many of the TV images showed people wading through shoulder-deep water, braving strong winds, trying to get by. I remember being eight or nine years old, travelling through Antipolo and being carried across a swell, rain battering the nearby houses, and men slowly trying to drive their jeeps through. Despite the amount of risk involved, they took it on the chin and kept going.”
She continued, stating that Typhoon Haiyan “is not enough to keep us down…those who have survived this terrible disaster they will stand up and come back fighting—although it may be difficult—with the resilience that has always shaped us.”
This resilience is quite remarkable and admirable. Despite chronic hardships, Filipino families endure, often with smiles on their faces. Come flood, fire or earthquake—they soldier on. Other nations could learn a lot from their example.
Simply pressing on, however, is becoming increasingly difficult—not just in the Philippines—but the world over. Natural disasters, famines, war and disease outbreaks are coming faster than ever, with no time to fully recover before the next chaotic wave hits.
Deutsche Welle wrote: “Since 2006 it has been rare for worldwide disasters to number under 900 in any given year. This is in stark contrast to the 1980s, when a terrible year might have seen a mere 500 disasters.”
How long can the world cope with a never-ending stream of overlapping mega-disasters?
Extreme weather is increasing across the globe. Europe has been hit by a recent spate of powerful storms, with scientists now predicting such weather upsets will be the new norm. Military conflict, such as the Syrian civil war, lingers with no end in sight. Rumblings of impending military strikes come from the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Old diseases such as bubonic plague and tuberculosis are back—and are now antibiotic resistant.
The tumult of terrible events is both perplexing and distressing. Again, how long can mankind cope?
As with the reason for human suffering, many look to religion for answers. Some turn to Bible prophecy, wanting to know if there is an end in sight. And the Bible does foretell the trends seen in the Philippines and the world over. This includes hurricanes/typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, starvation, ethnic violence, and terrorism.
These prophetic trends are listed in Jesus Christ’s Olivet prophecy, which answers the question on the mind of millions: “What shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). The word translated “world” here means the age, or the current order of things.
Matthew states: “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars…For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences [disease outbreaks], and earthquakes, in diverse places” (vs. 6-7).
The word translated “nation” in these verses is ethnos. In other words, it could be worded, “For ethnic group shall rise against ethnic group.”
Mark’s account echoes Matthew, but adds a few key points: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in diverse places, and there shall be famines and troubles…” (Mark 13:8).
The term “troubles” is defined by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible as “disturbance, that is, (of water) roiling, or (of a mob) sedition.”
Think of mobs looting after a disaster, but also of roiling water—such as typhoons and other extreme weather!
Luke 21 adds, “But when you shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified…” (vs. 9). Strong’s states that “commotions” can also mean “instability” and “disorder.” This implies both instable governments and terrorist attacks.
Verse 11 of the Luke account states that there will be “great earthquakes.” The Greek word for “great” is megas—as in mega -earthquakes.
Put all of this together: rumors of war, ethnic violence, terrorism, widespread famine, disease pandemics, mega-quakes, super-typhoons. All of these conditions have existed throughout millennia, but all have dramatically increased in magnitude and frequency over the last few decades.
The Philippines is a microcosm of these worsening trends now enveloping the globe.
After Jesus listed these signs of “the end of the world,” which the Bible places during a time period called the “last days” (II Tim. 3:1), He exhorted His followers to “watch” (Mark 13:33). The context shows this means to watch world events through the lens of biblical prophecy, among other things.
Yet there is a problem. Most so-called Bible experts butcher, botch and blur what God’s Word says on these important prophetic topics. Ask 100 theologians to explain something like the “beast” mentioned in Revelation 17 and you will get 100 very different answers, from silly to vague to bizarre to unexplainable—and everywhere in between.
Such inconsistency can understandably leave the average person disheartened and confused. The situation can leave others skeptical of Bible prophecy altogether. They might ask: “Why would God record prophecy—supposed future events—in His Word and then not allow those following Him to understand what is coming?”
This prophetic and religious confusion should not come as a surprise. In fact, the Olivet Prophecy began with this worldwide trend. Notice: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name…and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5). Similar words are repeated in Mark and Luke.
Many do come in Christ’s name—claiming to have His authority—and offer mangled interpretations of prophecy. Why such utter confusion?
Six main reasons for the chaotic whirlwind of botched prophetic understanding are:
(1) They do not understand the identity of religious systems in prophecy. To comprehend prophecy, one must know which belief systems are valid—what is true or false. The book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History! thoroughly answers this question.
(2) They do not understand the identity of nations. Some modern nations are relatively easy to find in the Bible. For example, most Asian nations are descendants of Noah’s son Japheth. Yet others are more obscure and require deeper research into the Bible and history. What about the most powerful and influential nations? Where do they fit in prophecy?
The eye-opening book America and Britain in Prophecy answers these questions and more.
(3) They do not understand the order of events. To understand the complete prophetic timeline, one must allow the Bible to interpret itself. It is a puzzle, with pieces found throughout its text.
Careful reading of prophetic keys and clues that are found “here a little, and there a little”—while allowing the Bible to interpret itself—clears up many prophetic misunderstandings.
(4) They do not understand the magnitude of events. Knowing the size and scope of foretold events is crucial.
(5) They do not understand the speed of events. Some events happen one right after another or nearly simultaneously, and others are spread over time.
(6) They do not understand the general timing of the last days. Most are not even sure whether mankind has already entered the last days! You can know this by reading the booklet Are These the Last Days?
Armed with correct understanding of all six of these points, a proper prophetic landscape will begin to emerge—as will your place in it all! Terrible events such as Typhoon Haiyan will take on deeper meaning.
Most important, life-altering good news beyond today’s headlines—like the heartbreaking accounts of suffering now pouring from the Philippines—will become clear.
Instead of a worrisome, chaotic spiral of global events, a grand purpose for mankind will be revealed.