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Jakarta Post

Haiyan devastation: A wake up call to address climate change

  • Riza Bernabe

    The Jakarta Post

Warsaw   /   Sat, November 23, 2013   /  11:51 am

The cool, grey winter skies here in Warsaw, Poland, match the somber mood inside the National Stadium where climate negotiations are being held in this city, as news of the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines unfolds in the world media.

Heart wrenching images of death and destruction convey the toll inflicted by the super typhoon on the Philippine citizens: a father, his face gaunt with grief, carrying the body of his lifeless 6-year-old daughter in his arms; survivors desperately searching for food and water amid debris and piles of dead bodies; women and children, wet and shivering, forming a long, tortuous line at the airport in a frantic attempt to catch a ride that will take them to a safe place.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), typhoon Haiyan has displaced more than four million people and affected more than 13 million individuals.

The Philippine government reported that as of Nov. 18, 3,976 people died as a result of the storm, while 18,175 were injured and 1,598 missing.

The Philippine government placed the damage to the economy at more than Php 10.3 billion.

The bulk of this damage (Php 9.08 billion) has been in agriculture, posing grave and long-lasting repercussions on the food security and livelihood of those who survived the typhoon, long after the floods and the winds have gone.

These are all initial reports. The full extent of typhoon Haiyan'€™s damage to life and property will be more certain in the days to come.

Philippine climate negotiators in Warsaw could not help but feel a sense of déjà vu as they surveyed news of typhoon Haiyan'€™s destruction. Last year, during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Doha, they were anxious about typhoon Pablo, which at that time was leaving a trail of destruction in Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines.

The year before that, in 2011, they saw their country pummeled by Typhoon Washi (local codename Sendong).

All these typhoons came a few weeks before Christmas, at a time not typically known to be within the country'€™s storm season. They made landfall and came with intensities that defied communities'€™ and government'€™s preparation.

Is this now the new normal for the Philippines, and for other countries in the region? Over the last few years, countries in Southeast Asia have been reeling from the negative impacts of more intense typhoons, storms, droughts, rains and floods.

A special Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report notes the link between climate change and changes in the '€œfrequency, duration, timing and intensity extreme weather and climate events.'€

Days following typhoon Haiyan'€™s landfall in the Philippines, the UN launched a US$301 million aid appeal for those devastated by the super typhoon.

Humanitarian aid is starting to come into the Philippines as governments, international development and NGOs as well as the private sector allocate resources to help the victims of the typhoon. All these are welcomed, and renew faith and hope in the collective ability of people around the world to respond to human suffering and loss.

However, there needs to be a strategic response to prevent the further rise in extreme weather events, and to avert its devastating impacts on peoples and communities.

If there is one message that is ringing loud and clear from all this damage and devastation, it is the need for the world to address climate change and its attendant extreme weather events.

Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Yeb Sano, during the opening plenary of the climate talks issued a tearful plea for governments to stop the ongoing climate crisis by committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level that science dictates is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change.

Governments'€™ willingness and readiness to make the necessary political decisions in Warsaw will give this world the chance to address this global problem.

These decisions include (i) commitments to reduce climate-inducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020; (ii) a clear pathway toward an agreement on a fair, ambitious and binding global climate deal by 2015; (iii) developed countries allocation of the necessary climate finance to help developing countries adapt to changing climate patterns and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emission reductions; (iv) movement toward the operationalization of an international mechanism that will address loss and damage in developing countries due to climate change and (v) climate action in agriculture that supports adaptation, food security and sustainable development especially in developing countries.

ASEAN must also take an active role in ensuring that the Warsaw meeting delivers concrete outcomes that will help its members address the challenges of climate change.

The fact that all its members, especially the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, among others, are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events signals the need for ASEAN to take a more active role in ongoing climate negotiations.

Unless the world addresses this global crisis, the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia will always be in a perpetual déjà vu of climate-related destruction and devastation. Here in Warsaw, the world has the chance to stop this from happening.

The writer is Oxfam'€™s East Asia GROW campaign'€™s regional policy and research coordinator.

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