Philippines storm: Nalgae’s lessons on climate change resilience

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When news of the approaching storm arrived in Kusiong village, many of the local Teduray tribal people did as they’d practiced in annual drills: They gathered at a designated church to wait it out. But as a wave of boulder- and tree-laden mud tore through the village, that shelter became a graveyard. 

It’s been a month since Nalgae dissipated, and many from the mountainside community are still missing. 

Why We Wrote This

In the Philippines, one village’s struggle to rebuild in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nalgae highlights the limits of climate resilience strategies. Does running from high-risk areas always make a community safer?

“We lost everything in the mudslide,” says Joan Masukat, whose daughter died during the storm.

The Teduray were relocated here from their original coastal settlement a couple of years ago by the government, at least in part to keep them safe from storm surges. As climate change fuels more extreme and erratic weather events, some experts argue the community was safer on the shore, where the threats were more familiar. Advocates say the Teduray’s plight – and that of more than 300,000 other Filipinos displaced by Nalgae – underscores a need for multihazard warning systems and better land management.

“Poor Filipino communities are generally resilient to whatever disaster that comes, because they have no choice but to adapt and survive,” says Analyn Delos Reyes Julian of Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian arm of the Filipino Catholic Church. “But we know that they deserve more than that.”

It’s been a month since Tropical Storm Nalgae triggered deadly mudslides in the southern Philippine village of Kusiong. The earth has hardened over the remnants of more than 200 Indigenous households, and the local Teduray tribal people have buried 43 of their own. More remain missing.

“We lost everything in the mudslide, our loved ones, our livelihood, our homes,” says Joan Masukat, whose 1-year-old daughter died during the storm. “Now, we have nowhere to go.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. A couple of years ago, the Teduray people were relocated here from their original coastal settlement by the government, at least in part to keep them safe from escalating storm surges. They now join the growing ranks of climate refugees around the world who’ve been displaced by droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. 

Why We Wrote This

In the Philippines, one village’s struggle to rebuild in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nalgae highlights the limits of climate resilience strategies. Does running from high-risk areas always make a community safer?

As poor and otherwise vulnerable communities bear the brunt of this year’s extreme climate events, advocates worry that disaster-resilient spaces appear to be shrinking. In the Philippines, the Teduray and climate activists are questioning the government’s climate preparedness, calling on leaders to declare a climate emergency, and looking harder at how land is managed.

“Poor Filipino communities are generally resilient to whatever disaster that comes, because they have no choice but to adapt and survive,” says Analyn Delos Reyes Julian of Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian and advocacy arm of the Filipino Catholic Church. “But we know that they deserve more than that. They should get all the help they need to get back on their feet and survive the worsening climate situation.”

Tunnel vision

Since a devastating tsunami struck their former village in 1976, the Teduray have held annual storm drills, teaching new generations how to identify the sound of an approaching wave and designating safe areas where families could wait out storms on higher ground. But they were unprepared for the geohazards that faced them at the foothills of Mount Minandar in Maguindanao del Norte province.

When news of the approaching tropical storm arrived, many gathered at a church to wait it out. As a wave of boulder- and tree-laden mud tore through the chapel, that shelter became a graveyard. 

Joan Masukat recalls losing her daughter during Tropical Storm Nalgae in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Philippines, on Nov. 1, 2022. Ms. Masukat is a member of the Teduray Indigenous group, which relocated from the coast to a hillside site in Kusiong village to escape surging seas. The relocation site was flattened by a mudslide, killing at least 43 people.

It’s not uncommon for communities to focus on one type of threat at the expense of another, experts say. In fact, a United Nations report published shortly before Nalgae made landfall on Oct. 28 warned that just over half the world’s countries lack multihazard early warning systems, making them especially vulnerable to climate disasters. Researchers state that systems which simultaneously monitor for “interrelated and cascading events are essential” as climate change fuels more extreme and erratic weather events. It’s not enough for a community to know a typhoon is coming, for example, if the real danger lies in the floods, landslides, or disease outbreaks that follow.

Maguindanao del Norte Gov. Fatima Ainee Sinsuat says these sorts of tragedies are “unacceptable.”

“We were ready for the typhoon and the storm surge, but we were not prepared for the landslide. This was the first time that it happened to us,” she says.

Mrs. Sinsuat says the local government is working to improve its disaster risk reduction program, and that authorities are “carefully identifying” a new relocation site for the Teduray people.

“But we need to be sure this time,” she says. “The new site must be safe from both landslide and storm surge.” 



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