Fortitude

Natural disasters are merciless in revealing the flaws in our systems and infrastructure. But amidst the chaos and destruction they can act as a wakeup call to greater resilience.

When super typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, it wasn’t simply the record-breaking winds that sent shockwaves through the islands, but a surprise intense storm surge – a wall of water up to five metres high – wreaking havoc and affecting over 14 million people.

The typhoon struck at the tail end of Filipino typhoon season, and as further rains and storms threatened to swamp the already stressed rivers, the potential for worse loomed heavily.

Rather than sit back and wait for help, I saw communities galvanised by the devastation – determined not only to clear up and rebuild, but to take steps to limit any further damage.

Part of the genius lay in the local knowledge of the environment. By understanding the connections between the rivers, irrigation systems and climate, locals could predictably forecast the coming trouble and head it off.

In this case, Ulderico (pictured) and his community identified the risk of waterways clogged with fallen trees and other debris and jumped into action to manually dredge them. Precious rice crops were therefore protected against further flood damage.

This picture speaks clearly to me that resilience always requires the voice and knowledge of the local community and an integrated understanding of the human and the natural environment.

Tom Price is a professional humanitarian photographer and is a co-founder and director at Ecce Opus. Over the years Tom’s work has taken him to over 125 countries across six continents. Ecce Opus has produced imagery for governments, NGOs and corporations, and this work has been presented in the UK and European Parliaments, The Hague, St Paul’s Cathedral, The World Bank in Washington, the Museum of Natural History in New York and the World Health Organisation in Geneva.