A A few days before Christmas, Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – devastated the Philippines. The morning after the attack, on my way back to Iloilo City from San Jose, Antique, I still saw the ocean boiling; houses blown away and large trees blown down, making roads impassable. The sights were terrifying.
Lost lives continue to rise two weeks later. Huge numbers of buildings were destroyed – from houses to schools; food crops lost to flooding. At first I didn’t know what to feel – anger, helplessness? Later I knew what I wanted: climate justice.
Average 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines every year and they are getting more and more destructive. The culprit is greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The Philippines contribute less than 0.4% to the climate crisis; the global north is responsible for 92%. The Philippines is paying the price for problems caused in the north.
In 2019, the Philippines made a strong statement to the world when it returned 1,500 tons of illegally dumped waste to Canada.
However, Cop26, heralded as the world’s last chance to avert disaster, was viewed as a failure by many climate activists. Promises were not kept. The final agreement saw a watered-down stance against coal and prioritized profit over people and the planet.
Despite the Philippines’ small share of the worsening climate crisis, the threat to the country is enormous. Rising sea levels from global warming will flood parts of the country, creating thousands of climate refugees. Droughts and floods will affect agricultural production and destroy ecosystems. The risk and intensity of health emergencies, such as dengue and diarrhea, will increase.
The Philippine government romanticizes the suffering of the affected communities to hide inefficiency and inaction with it “Filipinos are resilient” rhetoric.
When my family and I lived in a slum above a river in Iloilo City, we left our slums before a typhoon made landfall and took shelter in a nearby chapel. When the storm was over, some of us would be grateful to see our homes still standing. Others would be saddened to see theirs ripped apart by the wind or carried away by the waves. There was no resilience here.
Families would have to start all over again, rebuilding their homes, only to see them destroyed again in the next typhoon. We lived in fear and bore the trauma of the danger posed by the disasters.
On December 17, I learned that my cousin, a recently graduated seafarer, along with at least 10 other crew members of the tugboat M/V Strong Trinityafter the typhoon hit the port city of Cebu. According to the owners, the boat had sought shelter, but the wind and waves were too strong and washed away the tug and the passengers. The Coast Guard has so far found no trace of the ship.
Citizens were quick to point out the government’s poor preparation, saying they hadn’t learned the lessons of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded to hit land – despite having a system in place this time. to disseminate information about the storm’s arrival through text messages, social media and on news channels.
However, the role of the media has been limited in the country. The regional channels of the Philippines’ largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, which have been 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 of their franchise renewal.
Telecommunications were interrupted. Filipinos kept waiting in limbo for news. People created Facebook groups with updates on the worst affected areas, information about missing persons and calls for help. Facebook news feeds were flooded with messages from those in need. People roamed the streets with signs saying they were hungry and thirsty. Many died of dehydration. Flooded cities have become ghost towns; houses are covered in landslides.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has declared a state of emergency in several cities and towns where power and water supplies are still cut; more than 5.4 million people were affected. More than half a million are displaced. Last week’s official figures estimate the death toll at 397 with 1,147 injured and 83 missing. More than 535,000 houses were destroyed and 350 million euros in damage to agriculture and infrastructure. People from communities in ‘danger zones’ cannot return.
Despite years of such disasters, the natural defenses are not protected. Dams have been built on ecologically important rivers; dolomite mining continues, and a new coal-fired power stations are still being built . A few days after the typhoon, a four-year ban on opencast mining lifted to promote economic recovery, disregarding mining’s contribution to the typhoons and rainfall that plague the economy in the first place.
The Philippines has elections in May, when the Filipinos must elect a leader who has an unwavering will to tackle the climate crisis by demanding accountability from the global north and strengthening the country’s defenses.
Poor countries and poor communities continue to be victims of anthropogenic climate injustice. The process of ending responsible human activities is weak and slow; there is only disaster risk mitigation and mitigation. Until the world tackles the root cause of this crisis, we will not be prepared for what is to come.
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