IOM Calls for More Storm Shelters Across Asia-Pacific

Thailand – When Typhoon Hagupit roared across the east coast of the Philippines two weeks ago, the death toll was in the tens, rather than in the thousands, unlike Typhoon Haiyan the previous year.

This was in part due to Hagupit being weaker than Haiyan, but mainly due to a massive evacuation effort by the Philippine authorities, assisted by IOM and other humanitarian partners.

Meteorological experts and the Asian Development Bank warn that the Asia-Pacific region can expect stronger storms, affecting rapidly growing urban areas. Accordingly, IOM is calling for greater investment in multi-purpose buildings which can accommodate large numbers of evacuees in the event of severe weather.

“Many municipal buildings, churches, warehouses and other large structures were used as typhoon shelters during Haiyan and Hagupit,” said Brian Kelly, IOM’s Emergency and Post-Conflict advisor for Asia-Pacific. “The problem is: they were often not designed with that purpose in mind, so it’s literally hit or miss as to whether they are fit for purpose.”

IOM is looking at Bangladesh as a model, where purpose-built typhoon shelters have been in use since the 1970s, following the catastrophic Cyclone Bhola in 1970, which killed up to half a million people.

The country has a network of almost 2,000 shelters, which double up as schools and community centres. While expensive to build and maintain, their existence and multi-purpose utility – alongside resilient housing programmes – allows people to quickly resume their lives after severe storms, making economic, as well as humanitarian, sense.

“We are looking closely at the Philippines as a blueprint for rolling out advanced preparation systems across the region,” said Kelly. “There is definitely a willingness to step up preparedness there, and in other storm-prone countries. This would have to be part of an integrated package that builds on the excellent work the Philippine government has already done.”

In Bangladesh, aid agencies and the authorities have added measures such as latrines on higher ground, fresh-water tanks, and rapid escape routes, to optimize the effectiveness of the shelters. IOM is also considering how these shelters could lower the death toll in floods, tsunamis and storm surge events, and prevent the large-scale displacement that accompanies disasters.

Analysis: Nearly one-third of the world’s tropical cyclones form within the western Pacific. Along with a high storm frequency, this basin also features the most globally intense storms on record, including November 2013’s Haiyan, the strongest storm to ever make landfall.  Tropical cyclones form in any month of the year across the northwest Pacific Ocean, and concentrate around June and November in the northern Indian Ocean. The area just northeast of the Philippines is the most active place on Earth for tropical cyclones. In 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit southern Myanmar with catastrophic effect. Viet Nam, China, Indonesia, India and Cambodia have all been hit by large storms in recent years.

For more information, please contact

Brian Kelly
IOM’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok