The region is also blighted by its geography. It is made up of a string of islands, and there is only so much land where people can be evacuated to, unless they can be flown or ferried to the mainland.
The Philippines' disaster preparation and relief capacities are also hampered by political factors. It lacks a strong central government and provincial governors have virtual autonomy in dealing with local problems.
Contrast this with Vietnam, which sees about a dozen typhoons per year. It is similarly poor and densely populated but a centralized Communist Party-led government broadcasts clear messages that cannot be ignored by provinces. Also, because of a clearly defined land mass unlike the archipelago of the Philippines it is easy to evacuate people deep inland.
"This is not the time to judge. ... The national government and the local government all need to work together not to criticize anyone or not to show that one is better than the other," said Alemendras, the presidential aide.
But even with adequate resources and a robust government authority, forces of nature and the unpredictability of people can put paid to even the best plans, as seen when Hurricane Katrina plowed into New Orleans in 2005.
More than 1,400 deaths were blamed on the massive storm and its aftermath, mainly among the 10-20 percent of the city's population that was unable or unwilling to leave before it hit.
In Japan, meanwhile, the 2011 tsunami might have killed many more without in-place emergency response measures, but an inadequate response to the nuclear power station crisis that followed seriously compounded the disaster.
Because each crisis is different, management plans need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing situation, said Zhang, the disaster expert. Rather than specific pre-set directives, they work best as a list of options, Zhang said.
That, however, requires access to complete, up-to-date information, something authorities in the Philippines have in short supply. Many areas have been cut-off because of damage to roads and other infrastructure and staffing problems have interrupted the collection of basic data on what supplies are needed.
As the scale of the disaster became apparent on Sunday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said local governments hadn't been able to provide the necessary data to coordinate relief, partly because rescue workers themselves had suffered from the storm and weren't able to show up for work.
Aquino pledged that problems in preparedness and response would not go ignored.
Associated Press reporters Jim Gomez in Tacloban and Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.
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