As Hurricane Florence barreled across the southern United States on the western Atlantic coast, half a world away Typhoon Mangkhut swept across the western Pacific islands, hitting the Philippines before making its way to the Guangdong province of Southern China and finally to Hong Kong, according to an Associated Press (AP) article from Sept. 16.
Typhoon Mankhut is otherwise known as Ompong in the Philippines, where its devastating effects are estimated to have killed at least at least 65 people and left many more missing. The casualties that occurred in the Philippines were significantly higher than those in China; four deaths were reported in Guangdong and zero in Hong Kong, according to the Sept. 16 AP article.
This disparity can be primarily attributed to the generally poor infrastructure of the Philippines, as well as the fact that the typhoon was travelling at considerably lower speeds by the time it reached Honk Kong.
“[It’s] important to stress [that] what hit the Philippines was a Category 4, and by the time it came ashore in Hong Kong it was a Category 1,” R. Todd Ruppert Associate Professor of International Studies Stephen Van Holde said. “Those are two very different kettles of fish.”
Holde also commented on the vast gap in wealth and infrastructure quality between the two countries. “Hong Kong is highly developed, there is a lot of infrastructure, [and] it’s a relatively wealthy area,” he said. “I think the Northern Philippines is a very different story. It’s very rural, it’s very isolated [and] it’s very poor.”
Associate Professor of Anthropology Sam Pack, who has lived and worked in Manila, the capital of the Phillipinesl, expanded on Holde’s assessment. “The devastating toll is because of the very poor infrastructure,” Pack said. “People just kind of build houses out of stuff they find on the ground … You make the best of what you can.”
Since the Philippines is positioned amid a hotbed of tropical storms known as the ‘Tornado Alley of Asia,’ the frequency of typhoons and tornadoes has normalized their sometimes devastating effects within the culture. “While it is tragic, and I don’t mean to underscore loss of life and property and all this, it happens all the time,” Pack said. “It’s just become interwoven into everyday life.”
Since natural disasters tend to disproportionately wrack the Philippines, Pack believes there is a cultural inclination to accept tragedy as a natural part of life. “It’s the most vulnerable because of its location, but also because it’s woefully unprepared for these natural disasters,” Pack said. In the Philippines, this outlook is referred to as ‘Bahala Na.’ “There’s no literal definition for [Bahala Na], but it’s usually translated as, whatever happens, happens,” Pack said.
Pack theorized that Bahala Na is responsible for the extreme resiliency in the face of tragedy that the Philippines is known for.
“It’s also responsible for the resignation — the lack of preparation, the poor infrastructure, the fact that this happens every year,” Pack said. In this way, Bahala Na may be a double-edged sword, according to Pack. “What accompanies it is this sense of it’s outside of my control, Bahala Na … You don’t have much and then you lose everything, of course, that’s a huge bummer. … This is a coping mechanism. If you got too bummed about it, you couldn’t survive.”
“The flipside of that ‘Bahala-Na’ mentality is why the impact is so much greater in places like the Philippines, why it will continue happening, sad as it is,” Pack said. “These storms, floodings, landslides — it happens all the time.”