By Dalena Rabacal
As the call for climate justice continues to fight against a system that prioritizes profit over people and the planet, many areas are increasingly vulnerable to intensifying destructive typhoons caused by climate change, and of course, widening the social wealth gap. It is the injustices in our history that breed more suffering in our present. With that, our fight should continue to carry the call of the most impacted communities for a movement to achieve an inclusive and livable world.
In December 2021, the landfall of Typhoon Odette (Rai) brought horror to the lives of over 7.8 million people across 11 regions in the Philippines. According to National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, the cost of damage to agriculture and infrastructure rose to Php 28 billion by January 10, 2022. It was shown all over the news how this typhoon devastated properties, homes, and livelihoods. Yet behind these numbers is a much more depressing story: the loss of everything that these communities worked hard to build over decades.
Since typhoons are exacerbated by the changing climate, life in areas whose partner is nature itself — working on the grassroots — is becoming harder and more expensive. For instance, product prices spiked after the supertyphoon, which further increased the wealth gap between the poor and the rich. The least contributors to the crisis are becoming poorer and more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, while the rich continue to take advantage of the whole community being under a state of calamity to suck out a profit. An example of this is the high price of construction materials such as plywood, nails, steel roofing material due to the high demands and being such a necessity in the areas of Bohol. But since the most affected areas and most of the destroyed houses are the poorest communities, residents could not repair their homes yet, because of these high prices, and must wait for the prices to plummet first. Then there are the monsoon rains that will worsen the situation by damaging the remaining structures, like the wood framework of the roof. The poorer communities bear the brunt of the damage caused by climate change and are the least able to recover from it. We witness here that the most unequal phase of a disaster is the road to recovery.
Additionally, the sunny weather left residents in the affected areas to experience the scorching heat of the sun since trees were uprooted and/or damaged by the onslaught of the Supertyphoon Odette leaving no shade to get under. In addition, the regions of Dinagat Island and Siargao reported having nine cases of people who have died from dehydration caused by diarrhea. The power outreach and water shortages are expected to last longer.
Supertyphoon Odette has not only damaged communities. We have also lost many of our pristine natural wonders because of it. An example of this is the estimated 80 percent damage to the forest and tourism facilities of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan. In Central Visayas, the Department of Tourism (DOT) reveals an estimated Php 3.4 billion damage to tourism which could rise if the estimates for Negros, Tagbilaran, and Panglao for Bohol and Siquijor are included. We must expect more catastrophic typhoons if nothing from the system of capitalistic greed and social injustice changes. By then, what will be left?
What’s left in the aftermath of Odette is the spirit and resiliency of Filipinos in neighbors-helping-neighbors initiatives. Small communities assisting, giving solace and working side by side to recuperate from hunger, loss, trauma, and all the worst that could be. But this is not enough to solve the whole picture of the climate crisis. It must be taken from its roots, which is the system of capitalism.
The world is running out of time to achieve the net-zero target and well below 2 degrees Celsius warming of the Paris Agreement. At the same time, politicians and corporations continue to bribe their way out of the penalty box, while the lives of the victims of the supertyphoon Odette have been halted and knocked down to zero. Affected communities are not giving up although they have lost everything, but the onus of recovery is not just on them. Our politicians and businessmen must work to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement as well as the demands of the climate activists. They should invest in sustainable living and social justice for the sake of the planet, people, and future generations.
The crisis character of climate change is not just due to the phenomenon itself, but also due to the nature of Philippine politics. For instance, the climate crisis is less discussed in the national debates despite being the main threat to humanity itself. In the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews on January 22, 2022, for the upcoming elections, climate action was barely mentioned. It was tackled briefly when it was connected to the effects of the calamities that occur in the country. The lack of attention to this topic proves how it is not a priority to the Philippine government and not attractive for voters to include the politicians’ names on their ballot. It must also be kept in mind that the leaders who decide over the reparations to affected communities do not face the risks of climate change. The government, therefore, focuses more on the aftermath of a typhoon than investing in prevention and preparedness.
It is time for those in the position of power and wealth to act urgently if we want to preserve what is left and restore what was lost, to transition to targeting more sustainable and calamity-proof cities as we rebuild out from scratch. The people’s billions should be invested in services like restoration and preservation of over-exploited mangroves forests, sea grass, coral reefs, and watershed ecosystems that fight storm surge, flood, capture carbon, and mitigate the planet rather than clearing them to make space for development that does not bank for our future and planet.
We should also take our actions to an international level as we urge for solutions to the oncoming storms and a major humanitarian crises that will cause more grief to our people and planet. We still have hope and we have all the solutions. It is time to accelerate our actions by keeping our eyes open and aware of the situations happening in our society and putting pressure on the ones accountable for the dire horror that others are experiencing. Continuing to put pressure on the leaders towards climate justice also means listening to the majority in the impacted communities of Visayas and Mindanao.
Odette is ranked as the second-biggest among the world’s natural disasters in the year 2021. It marked a long history of disappointments in the government for not doing their part in the fight against climate change, and their lackluster response to its effects, such as typhoons and droughts. With intensifying climate change, we expect also the more rapid intensification of typhoons. What we need is urgent action from the government, social justice to the poor and vulnerable, equality in the recovery, concrete plans to rebuild the community that can withstand disasters, and of course a systematic change to steer a greener, inclusive, and livable future.
This article was first published by our partner organization Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines.