Filipinos Remain Resilient, But Do They Have a Choice?

In the Aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (International Name Haiyan) Filipinos Remain Resilient, But Do They Have a Choice?

By: Trevor Donald

Last Saturday morning, many from Canada’s Filipino community turned on the TV to learn that Super Typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Typhoon Haiyan) struck their country leaving areas in mud and ruin. They have been since trying to determine if family and neighbors are amongst the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. The Category 5 storm moved very quickly and passed over the country with great intensity with winds at times comparable to the force of a tornado. Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most extreme storms ever recorded affecting 11.8 million people in a country with a population of over 96 million.

Many have described Filipinos as being very resilient throughout the ordeal. In a country where the effects of climate have been forecasted to be devastating but whose carbon emissions are negligible, the people in that country are resilient because they have no choice but to be resilient. With no one accountable for what the Philippine Lead Investigator to the UN Climate Summit in Warsaw, Yeb Saño describes as “A future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life” what other choice do they have but to keep going, to display that so-called, so admirable resilience?

Saño, also said “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 disasters 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.”

It is somewhat true in saying these disasters do not just happen. Disasters of this proportion are as natural as they are man-made. I spoke to an expert in this field to see what his view was on how the climate and the Philippine landscape has been altered and how it is making the impact of natural disasters much more intense.

Dr. Brad Walters of Mount Allison University’s Environment and Geography Department has lived and conducted academic research in the Philippines. He first travelled to the country in the early 90’s after a tropical storm hit an area causing flash floods and landslides. He said in terms of topography the Philippines is mountainous creating interactions with the landscape when storms do hit the regions. Intense wind and rain often result in flooding, soil erosion and sometimes landslides.

Walters said topography and geography is only one of the problems when storms like these occur, “The other problem is the socio-economical one where you have a country with instances of extreme poverty and inequality.” Walters also explained “Most homes are made of fragile material like bamboo, palm thatch and wood; sure they are sturdy given what materials they have to work with, but bamboo and other related material cannot build homes strong enough to withstand a hurricane or typhoon. This vulnerability of home construction is directly related to poverty and inequality because few people can afford construction with more durable materials.” Walters pointed out too that with better incomes you see a switch to building homes with concrete that are able to better withstand extreme weather events. Walters also said poverty and inequality has led to unsustainable deforestation which increases the effect typhoons and hurricanes have on the landscape.  He said that densely populated areas are also a factor and that, “Most people outside of the cities heavily rely on farming for subsistence to feed themselves and their families. With these farms wiped out by the typhoon, food security will definitely be an issue until crops can be replanted.”

On climate change and global warming, Walters said there is no doubt an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, but its difficult linking individual storm events to climate change. But extreme storm events like this are becoming more common with greater intensity and severity as well as costs associated with them. They also don’t occur in the same way. The typhoon that hit the Philippines differed from hurricane Sandy because Haiyan went through the area quickly but with extremely strong winds while the somewhat weaker Sandy stalled over the US east coast while it wreaked havoc. These factors will need to be looked at when local communities are working to become more resilient to extreme weather events.

Many people have been watching events unfold and want to contribute in some way to see a visible change or improvement in the many cities that were affected by the typhoon. As people make donations of some sort it’s important to remember in 2010 Canadians donated $220 million to Canadian charitable organizations in support of Haiti after it was hit by a devastating earthquake. Now nearly four years later the 2010 Haiti Earthquake it can be said the outpouring of money from all over the world achieved mixed results in rebuilding the Caribbean nation. With this new natural disaster in the Philippines, what lessons might be learned from Haiti and applied here?

Right now people in the Philippines that were directly impacted need cash to buy food and water and other basic essentials like emergency shelter, medical aid and sanitation. In Haiti aid groups largely ignored local needs so it’s better to donate money locally or to organizations that you know will listen to people who need the aid. During the relief effort for Haiti charities sold the hope of “rebuilding Haiti better” but after a large natural disaster people just want to get back to normal as quickly as possible and this first starts with the basics. At the beginning of this year there are still 350,000 Haitians living in tents despite billions in aid that flowed in after the disaster. Success should not be counted in the amount of money donated and spent but by the results that are achieved with the money.

Aid groups have improved in recent years since Haiti. The money comes less from the top-down and is more sensitive to the local needs and local groups are more empowered, so expectations can be measured to the reality of the situation on the ground. As a donor or anyone who is giving money to an NGO, you have the right to demand to see where it goes and what the organizations plan is.

Despite our differences- geographical, political, or otherwise- we are all essentially one. No race, political belief or geographical differences can separate us when it comes to calamities like this and people should help in whichever way we can.

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