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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor