While the archipelago has a long history of vulnerability to natural hazard, the island-nation has suffered a spate of particularly severe events in recent decades. Especially in the early 1990s, a close succession of major disasters cost thousands of lives, caused billions of pesos in damage to infrastructure and lost production, and, in some cases, altered the very landscape, engulfing provincial towns and burying rich agricultural paddies under metres of mud and lahar. 1 These ‘costs’ are borne by society at large and by communities in particular but the true extent of their impact is rarely acknowledged and almost never considered as a significant factor in public debate or government analysis. Yet their cumulative effect is considerable: a significant factor in national politics, deflecting economic policies and programmes, and an important issue in inter-ethnic conflict. Moreover, natural hazard, national disaster, international relief and foreign debt are woven into a complex and symbiotic cycle that maintains the Philippines among the less affluent of nations and prevents it from recognising the potential of its skilled and hardworking peoples.