Typhoon Haiyan: The scale of this catastrophe was preventable

You cannot stop a storm, but you can avert a disaster – this one, in part, was man-made

Share
Related Topics

When terrible things happen, angry responses can appear unseemly. Grief and sadness might seem like more appropriate responses to events which even those without faith might describe as an act of God.

But like many others, when I watch the news coming out of the Philippines right now, I am angry. You cannot stop a storm, but you can prevent a disaster, and this one was, in part, man-made. While Yolanda was only one of many storms that batter the Philippines each year, it must be remembered that the country suffers disproportionately from rising sea levels caused by climate change - exacerbating the storm surge and flooding which proved so deadly.

Many have seen Naderev Sano, the diplomat leading the Philppine delegation at the UN climate summit in Warsaw, speak movingly about the plight of his people and of his own family in the aftermath of the storm. His sadness is cut with anger - he refuses to see Yolanda as simply a natural disaster:

"Disasters are never natural. They are the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social, and environmental thresholds. Most of the time disaster is a result of inequity and the poorest people of the world are at greatest risk because of their vulnerability and decades of maldevelopment, which I must assert is connected to the kind of pursuit of economic growth that dominates the world; the same kind of pursuit of so-called economic growth and unsustainable consumption that has altered the climate system."

Sano hopes that the 2013 UN climate summit will result not only in a deal on greenhouse gas reductions for developed countries, but also for a legal framework ensuring that the countries which bear the true cost of climate change will receive compensation for the loss and damage they have already sustained. This is an important advance on the idea that rich countries must help pay for adaptation and mitigation measures. It means that they must acknowledge the suffering which they have already helped create - and pay up. And, as Sano so bluntly articulated, they must acknowledge their role in deepening poverty, which has sharpened the pain of so many affected by Yolanda.

After the storm, the Philippines deserves every aid dollar it receives; the efforts of ordinary people deserve special thanks. But international politicians’ solidarity with the Philippines needs to come before the storm. The problem is that providing relief is cheaper than saving lives, in the short run. The $301 million that the UN is requesting in emergency aid is only a tiny sum in comparison to the kind of investment that countries like the Philippines need to prevent harm in the future. Try $100 billion a year - the size of the UN’s admittedly controversial Green Climate Fund, which aims get money to poorer countries for adaption and mitigation. In any case, a recently released Oxfam report reveals that rich countries haven’t yet met their Doha pledges of $8.4 billion, and that most funding has “either plateaued or decreased”. Even worse - a lot of that money is regular development funding, just renamed climate finance.

Pinoys have a funny habit of referring to their homeland as “only a small country”. Well, they should stop selling themselves short, since everyone else is. The Philippines is a country of almost a hundred million people, the twelfth largest population the world. So many millions of those live in the path of typhoons like Yolanda, and from what we’ve seen, the international community (whatever that is) counts their lives pretty cheaply. 

For too long, Filipinos have been impoverished by bearing the externalized costs of rich countries’ development. From the Spanish yoke to American colonization to Japanese occupation, and then to a murderous, Western-backed dictatorship, control over the fate of the Philippines has always been held outside. Sadly, as COP19 is likely to demonstrate, that remains true.

Like so many millions whose families have suffered because of climate change, Naderev Sano understands that responsibility should be shared in common, and costs should be paid by those who benefit. I hope that the force of his anger will help produce a result that no-one is expecting at COP19.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A doctor injects a patient with Botox at a cosmetic treatment center  

Why do women opt for cosmetic surgery when there is such beauty in age?

Howard Jacobson
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape