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‘If not us, then who?’ Climate change and the devastation left by typhoons Haiyan in the Philippines


Typhoon Hayian was the 25th typhoon that hit the Philippines this year.

I lived in the city of Dumaguete in the Philippines for four years and left last May. My family is still there and we were talking on Skype about the typhoon that was approaching the Filipino coast. Dumaguete lies just a couple of hundred Km south of the main path followed by the storm and was therefore luckily spared.

While the storm was approaching updates were shared with the population. The local authorities warned people to stay inside and cut some branches and trees that posed danger to houses. Schools were closed as well. Fishermen were advised not to go at sea. I am sure they did the same in Tacloban, but the typhoon was just too strong.

On the night before when the Typhoon hit Leyte , Dumaguete had strong rain and winds, but no major damages. On  Friday, when the typhoon hit, electricity was cut. Winds continued but the rain was not too strong.

While a massive rescue operation is underway to recover bodies and provide assistance to the survivors the debate has started online as to what extent this typhoon is a man made disaster.

As always the evidence is not conclusive. Bryan Walsh summarizes some of the key points in his article Climate Change Didn’t Cause Supertyphoon Haiyan. But the Storm Is Still a Reason to Fight Warming:

1) The warming of air and sea temperatures should on the whole give more power to tropical cyclones, in part because warmer air can hold more water vapor.

2) It remains extremely difficult to attribute specific weather events to climate change. It’s true that sea-level rise adds an element of danger to tropical storms. In the case of Haiyan is seems that sea water rise has been the real killer.

3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Kerry Emanuel has predicted that the frequency and the intensity of tropical cyclones would increase in the 21st century and that the increases would be most prominent in the western North Pacific, which is where Haiyan struck.

4) Climate change will bring an assortment of dangers, possibly including more powerful storms — which is one more reason why we need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while building a world that is more resilient to extreme weather.

Delegates from over 190 countries are meeting in Warsaw to discuss climate change and ho to reduce greenhouse –gas emissions. It is ironic that despite the devastation left by Haiyan in the Philippines expectation from the meeting are quite low or as low as usual.

Maybe the emotional address by the Filipino delegate and diplomat Yeb Sano can push the delegates to reach real decisions:

‘Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change. In Doha, we asked, “If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” (borrowed from Philippine student leader Ditto Sarmiento during Martial Law). It may have fell on deaf ears. But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here in Warsaw, where?”

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness.’

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