A A few days before Christmas, Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – ravaged the Philippines. The morning after the assault, on my way back to Iloilo City from San JosÃ©, Antique, I could see the ocean still boiling; houses washed away and large trees toppled over, making the roads impassable. The views were terrifying.
The lives lost continue to climb two weeks later. A large number of buildings were destroyed – from houses to schools; food crops lost due to flooding. At first I didn’t know what to feel – anger, helplessness? Later, I knew what I wanted: climate justice.
On average, 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines each year and they are becoming more and more destructive. In question, the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities. The Philippines contributes less than 0.4% to the climate crisis; global north is responsible for 92%. The Philippines is paying the price for problems produced in the north.
In 2019, the Philippines made a strong statement to the world by returning 1,500 tonnes of illegally dumped waste to Canada.
However, Cop26, touted as the world’s last chance to avert disaster, was seen as a failure by many climate activists. The commitments were not kept. The final deal saw a watered-down stance against coal and prioritized profits for people and the planet.
Despite the Philippines’ small share in worsening the climate crisis, the threat to the country is enormous. Rising sea levels due to global warming will overwhelm parts of the country, creating thousands of climate refugees. Drought and floods will affect agricultural production and destroy ecosystems. The risk and intensity of health emergencies, such as dengue fever and diarrhea, will increase.
The Philippine government is romancing the suffering of affected communities to cover up ineffectiveness and inaction with its âFilipinos are resilientâ rhetoric.
When my family and I lived in a slum over a river in Iloilo City, we would leave our slums before a typhoon hit land and take shelter in a nearby chapel. Once the storm has passed, some of us would be grateful to see our homes still standing. Others would be saddened to see theirs blown away or washed away by the waves. There was no resilience here.
Families would have to start from scratch, rebuilding their homes, only to see them destroyed again by the next typhoon. We lived in fear and bore the trauma of the danger of calamities.
On December 17, I learned that my cousin, a freshly graduated sailor, was missing with at least 10 other crew members of the tugboat M / V Strong Trinity, after the typhoon hit the port city of Cebu. According to the owners, the boat had sought refuge, but the wind and waves were too strong and swept away the tug and those on board. The coast guard has so far found no trace of the ship.
Citizens were quick to point out the government’s lack of preparedness, saying it failed to learn lessons from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the strongest typhoons on record to strike land – despite the fact that this time there was a system to disseminate information about the arrival of the storm by SMS, on social networks and on news channels.
However, the role of the media has been reduced in the country. The regional stations of the Philippines’ largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, which were on the front lines during previous natural disasters, have been out of service since 2020 due to what many see as a politically motivated refusal to renew their franchise.
Telecommunications have been cut off. Filipinos have been left in the dark while awaiting news. People have created Facebook groups with updates on the hardest hit areas, information on missing persons, and appeals for help. Facebook’s news feeds were inundated with messages from people in need. People wandered the streets with signs saying they were hungry and thirsty. Many died of dehydration. The flooded towns have become ghost towns; houses have been buried by landslides.
The National Council for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management has declared a state of emergency in several towns and villages where electricity and water supplies are still cut; more than 5.4 million people have been affected. More than half a million people have been displaced. Official figures last week put the death toll at 397 with 1,147 injured and 83 missing. Over 535,000 houses have been destroyed and 350 million euros (Â£ 290 million) in damage to agriculture and infrastructure. People from communities in âdanger zonesâ cannot enter.
Despite years of such disasters, natural defenses have not been protected. Dams have been built on rivers of ecological significance; Dolomite mining continues and new coal-fired power plants are still under construction. Days after the typhoon, a four-year ban on surface mining was lifted to help economic recovery, ignoring mining’s contribution to typhoons and precipitation that hit the economy in the first place.
The Philippines has elections in May, when Filipinos must choose a leader who has an unwavering will to tackle the climate crisis by holding the global north to account and strengthening the country’s defenses.
Poor countries and poor communities remain the victims of anthropogenic climate injustice. The process of ceasing responsible human activities is weak and slow; there is only disaster risk management and mitigation in place. Until the world tackles the root cause of this crisis, we will not be prepared for what is to come.
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