Addressing Slow Onset Disasters: Lessons from the 2015-2016 El Niño in the Philippines

Addressing Slow Onset Disasters: Lessons from the 2015-2016 El Niño in the Philippines


The Philippines as an archipelagic country is prone to climate-induced extreme weather events. However, it is also one of the countries in Asia and in the tropical Pacific Ocean that experiences the effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a slow onset event. The current disaster risk reduction (DRR) system is focused on rapid onset events such as typhoons and storm surges. This chapter discusses the impacts of ENSO on farmers and fisher folks and how the gaps in disaster risk reduction governance for slow onset events has exposed the need to develop new protocols to address these slow onset disasters.


The objective of the study is to highlight the importance of learning from past El Niño episodes in the Philippines. A key result area this study advocates is for the development of new protocols for slow-onset disasters such as El Niño . In doing so, the study conducted regional and consultations with stakeholders reported to be most vulnerable to El Niño based on projections from the government agency in charge of monitoring and forecasting weather-related events.


The impact of El Niño in the Philippines was strongly felt by farmers and fisher folks. During the 2015/2016 ENSO event, these sectors experienced crop damage and food scarcity, reduced catches and fish yields, and eventually worsened the poverty situation. Although the country has put in place climate change and DRR-related legislation to reduce the magnitude of impacts of disasters, these set of policy responses embedded in the usual DRR cycle are more customized to rapid onset disasters (e.g. typhoons, earthquakes). As such, these policy responses were slow to come for the said El Niño episodes.

The study recommends the following: First, develop a new policy instrument that would support a more anticipatory DRR cycle. Included in this policy is a provision granting the power to declare a state of  calamity that would set into motion quick interventions designed to avoid crop losses. This may be cascaded to the affected farmers through the conduct of  information and education campaigns aimed at preventing them from planting if there is an expected drought. Second, both national and local government efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including El Niño, must be done with the participation of the nongovernment institutions such as the private sector, people's organizations, and members of the vulnerable communities themselves. Lastly, access to additional financing should be provided to the local governments as they are the ones representing the people who are most vulnerable to disasters.


Alampay EA, Torre Ddela. Addressing Slow Onset Disasters: Lessons from the 2015–2016 El Niño in the Philippines. In: Handbook of Climate Change Resilience. Handbook of Climate Change Resilience. Springer International Publishing; 2019:1–18. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-71025-9_192-1.


  • National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG), University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
  • Center for Local and Regional Governance, NCPAG, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines