‘Haiyan’ 2 years on: disaster prompts call for climate action

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By Imelda V. Abano


TACLOBAN CITY – People across the world, especially the poor and vulnerable, stand to lose the most in the face of a changing climate. This is evident with the major disaster that hit the Philippines two years ago today (November 8) with the unimaginable destruction of Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) that left more than 6,300 people dead and about 1.4 million others were displaced, and caused more than P89 billion in damage.




In the past few years, more and more people are becoming vulnerable to disasters and climate change impacting their food security, mobility, housing, livelihood, health, water supply and environment.



By the end of this month, world leaders will meet in Paris, France for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to set to frame issues surrounding climate change. It calls on all 195 nations to conclude a meaningful deal that must take into account the increasing climate-related disasters like that of super typhoon Haiyan that need proactive measures.


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“ Radical action is required of us to address the worst effects of climate change. The will-be historic Paris climate agreement presents an opportunity to achieve this,” said Philippine Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering. “ We are still in denial that such major disaster is the new normal, but we are now left with no choice. We can no longer afford any delay and it is time for climate action now”.



Sering said Haiyan exposed how a reactionary response is no longer sufficient, adding that there is a need to plan against the acute (disasters) and the chronic (slow onset).



Typhoon Haiyan is one of the strongest storms ever to hit land damaging almost everything in its path in central Philippines in November 8, 2013. Tacloban City in Leyte bore the brunt of the damage of Haiyan’s more than 8 meter-high storm surges.


Journey towards healing


Indeed, looking at Haiyan’s aftermath, lives were changed, shattered or lost.


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For Myra Primo, 34, healing continues. Some are able to “bounce back” and other people need additional support in order to cope and move forward on the path of recovery.


” We will never forget that tragic day. The physical devastation was horrifying. We were in shock when floodwaters swept through our makeshift house. It is just too much,” Primo recalled.


Primo, who is taking care of her 8 children, said her family is lucky to have granted a small permanent house in Barangay Sto. Nino. But life for her and her fisherman husband, as well as their small children is becoming unbearable with limited livelihood opportunities at the permanent site, lack of water supply and power.


She said her husband, along with other fishermen from their village, still returns to the coastal community where he spends his day to fish and sell his catch in the local market.


” The storm devastated every aspect of life. But surviving it is a reason to be thankful for,” Primo said.





The impacts of climate change to natural disasters


According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), if humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the average temperature of the Earth’s lower atmosphere could rise by more than 4°C (7.2°F) by the end of the 21st century.



It stated that the year 2014 was nominally the warmest on record, with global mean temperatures 0.61 °C above the 1961-1990 reference period average. The year 2015 is continuing on a similar track, with temperatures for the period January to July at 0.70 °C above the long-term average. The climate for the rest of 2015 will be influenced by the El Niño event, which is likely to be one of the four strongest since 1950.



Scientists, however, emphasized that climate change may not be at this point responsible for the recent increasing cost of natural disasters, but it is very likely that it will impact future catastrophes.



The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will probably boost temperatures over most land surfaces, and it includes increasing risk of drought and an increased intensity of storms, like what the Philippines has been experiencing over the past years, and a wetter Asian monsoon, and possibly more intense mid-latitude storms.



Dr. Rosa Perez, a Filipino climate scientist from the Manila Observatory, explained that warming sea surface temperature would likely increase the intensity of tropical cyclones, but not necessarily the frequency.





“ What is difficult to say is how much of the change in intensity is attributable to human influence and how much is natural.  Nevertheless, this will exacerbate the vulnerability of the Philippines already burdened by so many disasters. By observation, the Philippines is also increasingly experiencing heavier rainfall from tropical cyclones and storm surges like that of Haiyan in Tacloban City in 2013,” Perez said.


Perez added that countries could play a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gases and deploying low-carbon technologies to reach climate target.


Climate justice for the poor, vulnerable


Former Philippines climate envoy turned campaigner Naderev ‘Yeb’ Sano, said the Paris climate talks must deliver on enhancing ambition and that it should muster the political will to address climate change.


“ Developed countries must show that they are fulfilling their commitments to fulfil the objective of the climate convention in order to avert the kind of future where super typhoons like Haiyan, will become a way of life for Filipinos,” said Sano, who is presently leading the historical walk from Rome to Paris with the People’s Pilgrimage.


Sano stressed that climate change “ is the defining issue of our generation. We will be measured by how we respond to this crisis. The world must find the courage and muster the political will to avert this crisis.”




According to an Oxfam latest report, governments must achieve their goal of finalizing a new global agreement in Paris in 2015 (to be implemented from 2020). Both are essential to achieving the international goal of limiting global warming to 2°C (or the 1.5°C that many countries rightly demand), beyond which there is much higher risk of disasters and adaptation may become impossible.


Achieving the required level of emissions reductions means ambitious contributions from all countries and increased support from developed to developing countries for their implementation along with financial support for adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the Oxfam said.


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Philippine Senator Loren Legarda said that the lessons of Haiyan should continuously remind everyone about the importance of disaster preparedness and risk reduction.


“We notice the improvements, especially in the issuance of advisories and early warnings. There are local governments that are able to enforce early evacuation. But we need to do more,” Legarda said. “ The prepositioning of goods should be more efficient. We need to conduct massive education and information campaign on disaster preparedness so that communities do not remain complacent.”


Legarda added that there is a need to ensure that in rebuilding communities, we are not rebuilding the risks again. “ We must reduce the risks and not create new risks. If a community is prone to landslides, consult the geohazard map to see where relocation is possible; otherwise, we will continue to incur damages and rebuild again when typhoons occur. That is certainly not a mark of resilience.”


The Senator also reminded local government units (LGUs) to craft their climate change adaptation programs for funding under the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) and called on the Executive to sign the implementing rules and regulations of the PSF Law. Last month, the Climate Change Commission has announced that it is ready to accept climate change adaptation proposals from LGUs and community organizations for evaluation and approval of the PSF Board.


No enough housing yet for the survivors



Two years after the super typhoon, thousands of people who were left homeless are still living in bunkhouses and temporary shelters.



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As of November 2015, a little over 17,000 housing units have been completed. The Philippine government has allocated billions of pesos to complete the target 205,000 housing units. So far, less than a thousand families have been transferred to these housing units due to lack of water supply and power lines.



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No less than the typhoon Haiyan survivors themselves can describe their present difficult conditions two years since the disaster hit them, said Marissa Cabaljao, Secretary-General of the alliance of typhoon survivors called the People Surge.


“ Two years after Yolanda, disaster survivors still lament slow and inefficient rehabilitation program. Many houses from those in ‘No Dwelling Zones’ were demolished and now people suffer in temporary shelters in northern barangays, quite far from their sources of income and lacks accessible potable water. While others still await for the permanent housing,” Cabaljao lamented.



She said that upon their interaction with the survivors in temporary shelters, rent is only free for five years. After five years, they have to pay P200 every month, not yet inclusive of water and electricity. The cost of rent may also increase as the value cost of the land increases throughout time, she added.





“ The government should prioritize housing and basic social services. Certainly, bunkhouses and temporary shelters are far from being resilient. People suffer from lack of potable water in resettlement sites, while many from temporary shelters in northern barangays only have solar energy as source of electricity,” Cabaljao stressed. “What government does now is prioritize huge infrastructural projects such as the 7.9 billion pesos worth tide embankment project. Such a project is set to displace roughly 10,000 households from “No Dwelling Zone” areas.”


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Rebuilding lives, resiliency


Tanauan town Mayor Pelagio Tecson said the impact of Typhoon Haiyan to the people in his hometown is a major blow on how they could slowly recover. But he said he wanted to use this crisis as an opportunity to rebuild it and make people more resilient.



“ We are in deep crisis but we wanted to use this misfortune as an opportunity to rebuild this town,” Tecson said. “ Our town was highly hit by the storm surges, and it is just right to think of proper planning and care for the families, especially in coastal communities.”



Investment in adaptation to cope with climate hazards, institutional long-term planning for adaptation and mitigation must be mainstreamed to all local government units in the country in order to overcome scores of powerful typhoons in the coming years, Tecson said.


More than 1,000 people died in 2013 storm surge in the town of Tanauan, mostly coming from the coastal areas.


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Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, on the other hand, said the region is still struggling to get back on its feet two years after the disaster, but they are in the process of rebuilding lives.



“ It will take a long process to build back the lives of the people better, regain robust economic activities, reconstruct infrastructures such as hospitals, schools, bridges and permanent housing for thousands of people left homeless,” Romualdez said.



The mayor said he realized the importance of disaster risk management and collaboration with other government agencies in order to be prepared for the next typhoons to come.



“ It will be very difficult for us if we will be hit again by a disaster with this magnitude. That is why we need to collaborate with the national government and other agencies in terms of disaster preparedness, communications, systematic evacuation measures when a typhoon looms,” Romualdez said, adding that a permanent disaster agency must be established in the Philippines.




Though the road to recovery is long and painful, local and national governments must have learned many lessons from Haiyan. The Philippines must have somehow started to integrate efforts of climate change adaptation into the disaster risk reduction management works, including the broader development agenda to achieve a more resilient communities.



photo credit: Imelda Abano; Mel Caspe